Women and Ministry: Hermeneutics

Women and Ministry: Hermeneutics September 28, 2006

In 1992, on the 11th of November, the General Synod of the Church of England voted by a majority of more than 2 to 1 to ordain women to the priesthood in the Church of England. That vote raised considerable discussion among evangelical Anglicans. One who survived the debates to write about it all is the well-known evangelical NT scholar and theologian, R.T. France, in his exquisitely written, irenically shaped book Women in the Church’s Ministry. With your good behavior, I want to go through this book with you for the purpose of education and conversation.

I want you to know that I think the evangelical church is tightening up on this issue; it is not loosening up. I favor the loosening.
I begin today’s post with a story. In the Spring of 1982, I got a phone call at our home in Nottingham, when I was doing research for my dissertation at the University of Nottingham, from none other than F.F. Bruce. A mutual friend had told him we were in England and wondered if he would be willing to meet us; he was and called us to say so. So, Kris and I, with Laura and Lukas, drove up to Buxton to meet F.F. Bruce and his wife. It was a great day — and Lukas (age 2 at the time) greeted Professor Bruce by spilling orange squash on his rug. To which Professor Bruce said, “What can be spilled on a rug, has been spilled on this rug.” Still, Kris was mortified!
At one point I asked him about women in the ministry and Paul. He said two things, and I quote in a rough summary. First, if Paul knew we were taking his words and turning them into Torah, he’d roll over in his grave. Second, I’m (he said) for whatever causes the freedom of the Spirit. In other words, if the Spirit prompts ministry in a woman, let it roll.
R.T. France is in the school of F.F. Bruce on these matters, though I don’t think he makes either of these points. I begin today with his introductory first chapter, and it’s a good one.
There is exegesis — the careful study of the Bible; and there is hermeneutics — the bringing of the Bible into our world. The two are not the same, and great advances have been made in the latter in the last three decades. In fact, they are related to one another — more than many of us admit.
Even if evangelicals agree on the authority of Scripture, they differ wildly on all kinds of matters once they begin interpreting it or “hermeneuting” it, not all of them minor — like baptism, creation and evolution, war, church government, politics, millennial schemes, “eternal punishment,” and many other issues — like Calvinism and Arminianism. This means that we are learning that exegesis is mediated to us through interpretation and hermeneutics — it is not as simple as some think.
He then argues that we have all changed our minds on slavery — “The two issues are not of course parallel in every way (though at some points the similarity is a little too close for comfort), but for our present purposes the point is valid” (16).
France discusses how changing one’s mind occurs in the pages of the Bible, and he usefully explores how the Church came to terms with how to deal with Gentiles who converted. His point is not that there is biblical support for both views — make them get circumcised; leave them alone — but that what the Church learned was that passages we previously leaned upon have shifted, and there is more in the Bible than we realized. Exclusivist passages gave way to universalistic passages as the Church encountered the influx of Gentiles. Paul, himself, explored the universal dimension of Abraham’s covenant (Gal 3:6-9).
How, then, do we decide? We ponder the Bible through exegesis and then we discuss the Bible with others and we learn over time which texts speak with weight.
Would anyone disagree that slavery is overturned, not by looking at passages that seem to affirm it (say Philemon), but by looking at passages that provide a more central, theological core that transcends even what was permissible in the Bible? Say, Galatians 3:28. What brought Gal 3:28 to the fore was not simple exegesis, but the hard-core reality of the despicable nature of slavery and the ends to which some were taking it. There is ongoing development within the pages of the Bible; does that not keep on going in the Church? What is sometimes only in introductory form becomes more central over time.
Today let’s keep the discussion to this hermeneutical point: that, at times, we learn some practices rooted in some texts are overturned by the deeper implications of other texts.
We could deal with some examples — say Roman 13:1-7 (was it right to resist, as Bonhoeffer did, Hitler?) or the boundaries between Jews and Gentiles or even the food laws. Most of us would support changes on washing feet and hair codes for women (1 Cor 11:2-16) and clothing style of women (1 Peter 3:1-7), or even greeting one another with a holy kiss. There are others; we might explore some of these to show that we have changed.

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  • Scot,
    1. I think I read in your Galatians commentary that when asked what he thought about the ordination of women, F.F. Bruce said: “I don’t care much for ordination” – that cuts to the jugular alright. Am I right or was that someone else? (That reminds me too that I must get around to reading F.F. Bruce’s biography which is in our library.)
    2. On the Spirit prompting women in ministry, I get the point, but it makes me nervous since the same arguments are rehearsed in relation to homosexuality. But Word and Spirit go together and what is often attributed to the lead of the Spirit in some circles is really just an act of imitating the “Spirit of the age”.
    3. For those interesed, Christians for Biblical Equality have a letter from F.F. Bruce posted on their website where he expresses his support for their cause!

  • Tim Gombis

    There’s a sense in which ALL evangelicals, even if they pound their fists and claim a strict vision of biblical authority, make this very same hermeneutical move–that is, we all intuitively practice the hermeneutical approach of redemptive trajectories, even if we don’t admit it.
    Very few men will have their wives call them “lord” in obedience to 1 Peter 3. Further, very few will treat Eph 6 hermeneutically (on slavery) the way they treat Eph 5 (on marriage).
    The fact is that if you’re “compelementarian” then you practice a redemptive trajectory approach, since the NT is very definitely “patriarchical” and not merely “complementarian.” So, it is very definitely a hermeneutical issue, as far as how we think about roles of women in home and church. I do see Mike’s point, re: homosexuality, but here, it seems to me, is where NT “ethics” has more to do with new creation communities gaining wisdom and discernment from praying and listening carefully to the Scriptures for how to carry out community life, rather than an approach where our ethics are supplied to us immediately from our exegesis.

  • Scott M

    Hmmmm. Sounds similar to Wright’s fifth act hermeneutic. I like it.

  • The more I have discussed this topic with others on campus, the more I am convinced that the debate goes nowhere until we have settled this issue of what “the bible says” and how close it is, indeed, to what happened when Christians were debating slavery. It is unthinkable to most of us in the 21st century, but there was a time when a large number of Christians (not just a quirky minority) fought, with a bible in hand and pointing to proof texts, for the right to own human beings as personal property. Figure that one out, and you’ve figured out the core problem women face when trying to follow and obey God as Master, instead of a male human being.

  • Bob

    N.T. Wright leans towards women’s ordination within his denomination.
    It’s hard to be of one mind on this issue by approaching Scripture alone. Same with the Arminian/Calvin debate. You have to take into account the 2000 year tradition of the Catholic church and their wisdom for ordaining men and thinking on salvation. As Protestants we don’t have to keep rethinking these issues that the Church has already answered. Jesus said that the gates of hell will not prevail. Protestants take a spiritual material dualism that is very modern and also like the agnostics in the first century. The Catholic faith is very Incarnational, the priest is in the “person of Christ.’ Also the bread and wine are the literal body and blood. Jesus was male and celibate. We as protestants get our “life” from the Catholic church whether we believe it or not. Protestants and Catholics are two sides of the same coin. I pray that we protestants will wake up and come back into the fold.

  • Tim Gombis

    Yes, Scott (#3), it seems that Wright’s “fifth act” hermeneutic provides a rich and fruitful way of conceiving of how the church reflects on and takes its cues from Scripture, just as the people of God have always done.

  • Mike,
    You are accurate, he did say that about ordination. But, I’m trying to avoid the “o” word here for the time being.
    I chime in on the 5th act of Wright; a very ecclesial view I might add.

  • What is being proposed here is akin to William Webb’s redemptive movement hermeneutic (RMH). The RMH is unstable, however, because it pits the New Testament against itself. Even though Paul roots his injunction in 1 Timothy 2:12 in the created order, the RMH demands that it give way to Galatians 3:28.
    This just won’t work.

  • Denny,
    Pits against itself is too strong: the redemptive trend doesn’t see “against” so much as mutually existing themes that give way to one another.
    What of the examples — are they completely different from the women’s issue?

  • Scot,
    I believe that Bruce was a Plymouth Brethren which means that the word “ordination” was not part of his vocabulary.

  • John,
    Indeed — or maybe because he didn’t believe in ordination he remained PB. Ha.

  • Denny,
    I find it a bit surprising that a “creation” anchor (say 1 Tim 2 — after the Fall) can trump an “in Christ” anchor (Gal 3:28), though it is clear to me also that the one who wrote Gal also wrote 1 Tim and did so afterwards. I don’t, however, think it is that simple: author said both, one after the other, therefore 1 Tim 2 shows the limits of Gal 3.
    My response: to be sure, 1 Tim 2 shows the limits of Gal 3 — in Paul’s day. Isn’t that exactly what happens with slavery? Gal 3:28 is before 1 Cor 7 (remain in your stable condition), but we have since discovered — haven’t we? — that Gal trumps 1 Cor 7. This is the redemptive trend France is articulating.
    Now what is wrong with the logic regarding slavery?

  • Tim Gombis

    I disagree, Denny, since it seems that everyone who doesn’t “directly apply” certain NT texts does something like a redemptive trajectory approach, even if it is intuitive. I realize that when we try to step back and articulate what we’re doing and turn it into an abstract theory it makes us feel uncomfortable, but perhaps that ought to lead us to reflect on the value of “abstract hermeneutical theory” over against strategies to wisely and shrewdly embody Scripture in contemporary settings.
    All of our abstract hermeneutical theorizing reminds of a definition of an economist I heard once: Someone who sees something work in reality and wonders if it can work in theory!

  • Kim

    When I hear the argument against women in ministry rooted in hermeneutics (i.e. my pastor explaining why women are excluded from specific ministry and leadership roles) I become a bit befuddled with the very thing you write.
    How is it we CHOSE to ‘evolve’ our thinking on a PORTION of the Sscripture, yet we become indoctrinated by other specific passages or specific verse? This troubles me deeply and I just can’t wrap my mind around a God who will put something in my heart (my very being), that I can never use on earth.

  • Scot,
    Maybe I misunderstood you. Did you say that the creation order of 1 Timothy 2:13 is an “after the Fall” development? I think Paul’s point is that patriarchy is rooted in the order that God created male and female. I still like Doug Moo’s exegesis of this text, “for Paul, the man’s priority in the order of creation is indicative of the headship that man is to have over woman” (Doug Moo).
    The one crucial difference between slavery and patriarchy is that the scripture does not link slavery to the creation-order.
    I don’t take it as a given that slavery per se is an absolute evil. I’m not sure where the scripture compels me to regard it as such. The main reason I say this is not because I think that humans enslaving humans has bequeathed great blessings on planet earth. I say that because Paul repeatedly refers to himself as a “slave” of Christ (likewise, Mary in Luke 1:38). Slavery only becomes wicked when people are wicked. That is why it was a divinely-ordained means of welfare in the OT (e.g., Deut 15:12). If slavery per se were an absolute evil, God never would have commended it as a form of welfare. I’m still thinking through how the Bible addresses slavery, but you can get a feel for where I’m coming from.
    For these reasons, I’m having a difficulty using slavery as a test-case like Webb and others are trying to do. Unless one is willing to call slavery an absolute and unmitigated evil in all cases, then it won’t work to prop up a RMH.

  • Denny,
    Your statement that “..Paul roots his injunction in 1 Timothy 2:12 in the created order” reveals a particular opinion regarding Paul’s reason for bringing up the created order in the first place. Your assumption is that Paul’s intention is to teach a doctrine of authority of men over women, a doctrine “proved” by creation order.
    There are some who believe Paul roots his injunction in the opening of this letter, where Paul exhorts Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” Women who teach such doctrines as permanent authority over men (the reverse-teaching of permanent authority of men over women), who teach that Eve was the mother of all creation and therefore must have been created first, who teach that tribute should be paid to the goddess Artemis to ensure that childbirth not end in tragedy… they should not teach. MEN who teach false doctrine should not teach, either (as Paul points out in the rest of the letter).
    The “created order” approach to proving authority of men over women is not shared by all Christians, though hopefully this does not preclude our discussing the implications of both views with grace : )

  • Kim (#14) struck a chord with me. My wife is a strong woman, and God uses her in leadership positions at our church. When we joined our church (Southern Baptist, believe it or not), we needed a church that would act on the anchor of Gal. 3:28 like Scot said (in #12).
    This discussion reminds me of Bultmann–I know he’s a problematic figure. I much prefer Wright. But his attempt to demythologize the bible comes from an honest question.
    How can we claim a book is the Truth, when no one can agree (through exegesis) on what truth it is telling us? And how do we strip away our own ulterior motives as we try to apply the truths of the bible in our ordinary lives (through a heremeutic)?
    Of course my wife and I want Gal. 3:28 to trump 1 Tim. 2:12, she directs the drama ministry in our church!

  • Scot,
    Whenever I see the argument that Paul appealed to creation order in 1 Tim, and that’s what makes what he says trans-cultural and binding for all times, I have to ask myself after reading it if he was really appealing to the creation order or instead to the actual narrative in Genesis 2-3. As I’ve seen people like Francis Watson and Rikk Watts show, there’s usually a lot more going on when a NT author quotes or alludes to the OT than first appears. NT authors like Paul were far to careful readers of the OT to just quote it casually as proof text (at least not all the time) and instead were usually also appealing to the context and story behind the quoted passages as well as the various traditions of Jewish understanding in their day about those passages.
    What specifically leads me to think this is the case (that Paul’s appealing to the actual Gen 2-3 narrative and not just the created order) is that Paul doesn’t just say, “man was formed first then woman”, he says, “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” He also goes on to say, “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” (where as elsewhere he speaks of sin coming through Adam).
    Paul’s appeal to the Genesis text in 1 Tim 2:13-14 seems to be brought up for reasons that have to do with the situation going on in Ephesus and how it’s related to the story of the Fall. Paul urges Timothy to correct the false teachers (1:3) who are involved in “things taught by demons” (4:1), and then goes on to say that some women have “already turned away to follow Satan” (5:15). Before that he counsels the young widows to “marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (5:14 see 2:15). He talks about young widows going house to house speaking foolish talk and saying things they shouldn’t. Taking into account the fact that Eve through her deception causes Adam to fall as well, there just seems to be too many links with the actual story of the fall in Gen 2-3 to believe that Paul is just referring to the order of creation as support for his argument.
    Anyway that’s just my opinion. What do you think Scot? Have you seen this point really addressed anywhere by opponents of Egalitarianism? Whenever I’ve brought it up it’s usually just ignored.
    Bryan L

  • Brian

    These discussions have drawn in broader questions than those of what women are permitted do. Some women seek an ordained position, but some other people are wondering if we should be ordaining anyone (in the sense that we have it today). Can you articulate in more detail what it is that you say God has put in your heart?

  • Hi Scot and Folks: Scot thank you for the F.F. Bruce insight, how fantastic an experience that must’ve been, you really give a flavor of it, and Dr. Bruce in telling it- thanks. Do you see “isms” as always existing where fear takes control over strength? Don’t know why males would feel “threatened” by the ordination of modern day Priscilla’s? Susan makes a superb point about false teachings, they create confusion not order, bring evangelism to a halt, not, expand the body; and therein is certainly a problem. Turning the scripture upside down, isn’t the same thing at all, as turning the world upside down- women who take such an extreme positon don’t seem to strengthen their sisters in the struggle?

  • Tim Gombis

    Hey, F.F. Bruce never got a Ph.D., did he? A nice little rebuke to those of us who put so much stock in our degrees… Sorta like C.S. Lewis: No Ph.D., lots of impact.

  • Kim

    In terms of specifics I probably can’t articulate clearly what it is that God has put in me.
    I can tell you this; I am a leader. It happens whether I choose it or not and I find that position both in secular and religious arenas. Sometimes it is nurtured and applauded (in the secular environment typically). Other times, in my church experience, it is shrouded or even openly criticized as lack of submission to authority.
    The conflict and resulting query for me is:
    1. Do I deny how God created me due to imposed gender limitations or…do I push with focused purpose towards fulfilling my destiny, ignoring the majority,
    2. What does that look like?
    3. Do I pursue a degree in theology under primarily male tutelage and try to reconcile or argue my beliefs?
    4. Do I continue serving informally and just be used of God as He requests?
    With regards to ordination: I don’t think formal ordination should be a requirement for ‘pastoring’, and clearly it isn’t. I do see value in education in any teaching forum, including formal ministry, but I have also seen ‘abuse’ of power under the guise of education.

  • Brad

    I’ve watched the issue of the role of women in ministry my entire life and I find it interesting to see the pendulum swing back and forth each generation.
    I have seen churches that allowed women to teach sunday school but never to speak from the puplit in a church service. They could sing special music, but they were not allowed to speak an introduction to a song, even to simply say why the song was meaningful to them.
    I’ve seen other churches that have women as the head leading pastors of the church.
    I’ve also watched the “we came out differently on slavery” issue as well.
    It seems to me that the biblical message on slavery was more of “slaves are people too… treat them properly” and “if you’re a slave, do your work as if you’re doing it for God”. That still applies today. Maybe “slavery” is changed, but we still have employers and employees, and many would feel enslaved to their jobs. Bosses want more and more of their time… and there is fear of loss of job if an employee says “I can’t give you that much.”
    We DO have a form of slavery today… we just changed its name. Still the biblical principle remains. If you’re an employer, treat your employees rightly. If you’re an employee, earn an honest wage.
    In the same sense, women were viewed in biblical times more as property than as people. I don’t embrace that, but there remain cultures today that still hold that view. Query why Condi is having trouble brokering peace in the Middle East.
    Women are people too… treat them rightly.
    It is not without purpose that Ephesians 5:21 PRECEDES Ephesians 5:22. BEFORE we jump on the wives to be submissive to husbands, we need to remember that we ALL owe it to each other to be subject to one another. All of us should view our believing siblings as more important than “self.”
    Still, there is a divine design to how we organize and relate to and with one another. The house divided against itself still cannot stand. So there must be a leader and there must be followers. There must be order.
    So, within the authority structure of a church, when scripture says “I will not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man” did that mean in that church in that instance? Or did it mean as a general guideline in that culture? Or, did it mean EVER NEVER EVER?
    May a woman be submissive to male authority in a church body and still be granted an opportunity to speak or teach? If so, is doing so a usurping of authority?
    We can look at the words and become Pharisaical in our judgments, or we can look at the spirit of the words and find room for freedom.
    How many men have been aided by women who help them understand the ways women think so that they can resolve issues in their own marriages? Husband-wife counseling teams are often helped with women helping men see how stupid we are capable of being!
    I’m new to this site, and I ask for forgiveness if it sounds like I’m on a diatribe. I’m not, but there is a passion and intensity with the words I’m writing.
    As a male leader in my own marriage and family, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that as the “head of my house” I’m responsible to be the number one servant… first in line to serve. I can step in and make a hard decision, but it often is whatever is in the best interest of my wife or kids… with my personal interest not infrequently coming in last place. There is a reason husbands are challenged to love sacrificially their wives. May we not lead in a way that lifts people up rather than puts them [down] in their places? Now, if I can just get more consistent in doing that… number one servant in my house… Anything wrong with being a number one servant in my church too? Might be refreshing if top down perspectives held that view.

  • Brad

    Is there a reason why scripture details qualifications for “elders” of a church to include the “husband of one wife” qualification? What about the “fathers of believing children” requirement?
    Does that mean unmarried men cannot lead in a church? Does it mean a husband with no kids or a husband with only one kid is disqualified?
    I don’t think so, but the “husband of one wife” definitely conveys a faithful marriage partner. If you’re married, and if you’re going to be an elder, you should make your marriage look like the biblical picture… and make it last and be faithful.
    If you have kids, show your ability to lead well at home before we place church stewardship in your hands.
    But… there also may be an underlying presumption of male leadership notwithstanding. Does that mean that women have no place where leadership may be used? Not likely.
    Can male and female leadership co-exist? If so, is there still an underlying authority structure that is gender based? What can co-existing male and femail leadership look like within scriptural guidelines? Are the lines cultural and subject to change with changing cultures? Or are the lines design lines which find the “fruit” less “full” when the designs are violated?
    If we are trying to pursue an angenda and use scripture to further that agenda, I’m certain we can find a way. But I’m not certain we would like where that way takes us.
    If we are trying to discover GOD’S agenda and understand and follow it, it may force us to change a few conclusions here or there, but I’m also certain that if we follow it, we will like where the road takes us.
    Lest anyone misread me, I’m not promoting NO LEADERSHIP by women. Far from it. Rather, I’m promoting biblical leadership by all who are given leadership gifts, bearing in mind that we still are all subject to one another.
    Having trouble getting this to post… hope it goes through.

  • Brian

    I don’t have an answer for you, but I have some thoughts. You’ve probably heard church leaders talk about how 10% of the people do all of the work. I would say that churches are this way by design when there is a steep pyramid and gatherings center around a platform. One purpose of the design is to have a crowd of spectators.
    A result of this is that many people get shut out of leadership, both men and women. For the men who get shut out it can’t be framed as a gender issue. A higher percentage of interested women than men are probably getting shut out, but the total number of men getting shut out is substantial.
    For myself I have learned that servants can’t insist on the mode in which they serve (albeit systematic wrongs need to be addressed). I am to do good as there is opportunity. This is not to suggest that you deny what is in your heart because you are woman. It’s just that what is in our hearts often doesn’t happen as we had imagined, so we need to look beyond it at times. It happened for me as well.
    If you go after formal education try to sort out what you expect from it.
    I don’t want to sidetrack the discussion by going further, but maybe this will give you more to chew on. You are far from alone in this aspect of your journey.

  • Dr. McKnight,
    Your post leads to the question- who decides what is the “deeper” and what is the “lesser”? To echo Bob in #5, hermeneutics can’t be disembodied from ecclesiology.
    Others have brought up the continuity with creation. This, to me, is a trajectory- male headship is a symbol and structure we see represented from alpha to omega. It is not the traditional order that creates confusion and discord, but the “new order.”
    We women need to gain a larger and deeper view of what service is and take our thoughts captive to Christ on the subject, not captive to the culture and to our misplaced need for validation. Study the lives of the great women of the church, if you want to see the Spirit unleashed- St. Mary of Egypt, Queen Helena, St. Nina, the Mother of God… If the Spirit can be quenched by the restriction of the ordained priesthood to men, then it was no Spirit in the first place. Concluding that He wrongly or ineffectually led God’s people from Adam on up through the church would seem to make it not much of a Spirit at all.
    The “isms” that we should really be worrying more about are secularism and narcissism, slinking in under the cloak. Stop trying to level the field. I don’t want to live in the flat world this would create. Man is the image and glory of God, and woman is the glory of man- reject this, and no one gets any glory, least of all the One who created us male and female.

  • Nick

    “at times, we learn some practices rooted in some texts are overturned by the deeper implications of other texts”
    yea the christ-like virtues, the great commandments and such are what should guide our lives, not so much the jewish-christian practices of 1st century. i truly believe that we would be fine if all we relied on was “love God and one another”, and then followed our instinct and common-sense to make decisions. the pastoral letters are interesting and can be helpful at times, but should not be considered a universal authority for issues such as the treatment of women. furthermore, has anyone considered that the apostles could have gotten some of it wrong.

  • Kim

    It seems you don’t leave much room for the Holy Spirit in your understanding of the hiearchical image of human creation.

  • Kevin

    A large part of this discussion seems to be following along a certain line of thought. I came across something by Greg Koukl at STR that look at the translation of the text 1 Tim 2:11-15, which has been mentioned through this thread. I would be interested in hearing from others on how they think his comments may have bearing in the discussion.
    Here is the web address – http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5718
    Or you can search at the STR site (www.str.org) using the terms “women” and “ministry”

  • “You’ve probably heard church leaders talk about how 10% of the people do all of the work. I would say that churches are this way by design when there is a steep pyramid and gatherings center around a platform. One purpose of the design is to have a crowd of spectators.”
    I liked Bryans comment in #23. I have often felt that maybe this is wrong, our idea of what “church” is, is flawed. Much like an army who thinks that the best part is getting a job at headquarters and pushing paper. The reality is that the real “battle” is in the trenches, beaches and hedges of everyday life. We have in many cases been conditioned by our culture to think that clammering for those few jobs is indicative of our value in the Kingdom of God. Our worth and value is based on whether or not we get one of those 3P jobs…….that contain……a postion, a paycheck and a parking spot. Although the discussions we have been having the last week or two have been enlightening sometimes I get the feeling that maybe we are having the wrong discussion in light of eternity.
    “Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” Matt 7
    A lot of people who think that they are part of the “in” crowd are going to be out.

  • Dana Ames

    I read Greg’s talk. Though it’s not very polemic- which is refreshing-, I see two problems:
    1) To “take the text strictly at face value” is exactly an expression of the issue of exegesis/hermeneutic Scot raises here. We can barely agree on how the words are to be translated, let alone come up with a meaning for this passage from either Greek or English.
    2) Greg’s conclusion that the passage says men are to be the “spiritual head of household” and that this idea is consistent with “NT teaching that the wife should be under the authority of her husband” is an expression of his hermeneutic. That’s fine, but it offers no further clarity, though his point about translation/use of words is taken; it would be good if someone who is familiar with many koine sources would verify. As I recall, there is no place in the NT where “exousia” (authority) is the word that describes the husband-wife relationship.
    Please see Michael Kruse’s post on “Paul’s Subversion of the Empire” at http://www.krusekronicle.typepad.com (scroll down about 2/3 of the way) for a discussion of what household authority was about in 1st century Greco-Roman culture, and a hermeneutic conclusion that makes much better sense than Koukl’s.

  • David, at the risk of sidetracking this discussion:
    I’m curious what you would consider the “right discussion in light of eternity.”
    Also, you said you sometimes feel that “the real ‘battle’ is in the trenches.” I understand what you mean. As someone very very interested in Faith In The Workplace and Our Daily Work, I appreciate the sentiment.
    On the other hand, every battle needs generals who stay at headquarters and send out orders. It needs Captains who stay on their horses and shout out orders. And it needs people in the trenches.
    This discussion about women is a question of generals. Who can be general? Who can send out orders? (I’m beating this analogy to death.)
    Every institution needs leaders. Who do we trust to lead God’s institutional church?

  • danny

    i’m a first year mdiv student at candler and i wholeheartedly believe in the ordination of women. but along the lines of the post, much of my motive is because this seems right, and this inner ethic drives my hermeneutic.
    being at candler (and also being one of the few evangelicals here), there’s a strong LGBT agenda and after listening to them share their struggle and pain, i can’t help but feel likewise toward homosexuality. and honestly, i don’t quite grasp the danger of homosexuality given the assumption that we are born with sexual preferences. accepting lesbians and gays permits the church to encourage monogamy and fidelity rather than excluding them from Christ.

  • Danny,
    You’ve raised a fair analogy, but one that would derail the conversation toward an inflammatory issue (the Church and homosexuality); you can search on this blog about that, for I posted 14 times on that topic and point you toward those posts.

  • Nick

    danny does bring up a relevant issue. does it really matter what the bible says, if our concience (hopefully guided by the Spirit) strongly leads us in a certain view or decision? should we trust in a historical document written and translated by fallen human beings over our own discernment, trusting in the Holy Spirit. i find the biblical texts to be authoritative, but only as they coincide with my own judgements based on reason and discernment(the law written on our hearts, conviction of the Holy Spirit, etc.). so if someone feels that God approves of their homosexuality, we cannot simply say, “but don’t you know the bible says its sin, an abomination”. we must also reason with them, and talk logically, empathetically, philosophically, and pychologically about the issue, all in love. the bible, because it is not easily interpreted and possibly fallible in parts, although it does carry significant weight, should not be the primary basis of a discussion of women in ministry.

  • Shawn

    The dangers if assuming that the Bible might be fallible and should not determine how we approach the issues is that we are left with little more than personal feelings as to what is “right” or current fashions as to what constitutes justice. This is far more problematic than the interpreting the Bible. Two people can feel totally opposite things concerning abortion and the justice of the issue. Plus we are today often unaware of the pervasive Marxist assumptions guiding our culture, which imho have little if anything to do with justice. I support women in ministry, but only on the basis that I think both Word and Spirit confirm both the rightness of the issue and the fact that the Spirit is calling them. Issues of “justice” have nothing to do with it. Marxist, or Liberal (which is really the same thing) notions of liberation and justice are a cancer that will eat away at the Gospel and the Church. Witness the slow death of the US Episcopalian church.
    It does not make for easy answers, but we must constantly wrestle with both Word and Spirit in our lives. Dumping one or the other will lead nowhere good.

  • Shawn

    Please forgive my annoying typos 🙂

  • when scripture says “I will not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man” did that mean in that church in that instance? Or did it mean as a general guideline in that culture? Or, did it mean EVER NEVER EVER?
    A proper understanding will reflect a broader context. The same Paul quoted by those who favor restrictions on the exercise of spiritual gifts by women in other places lauds women for their leadership in churches.
    For a classical treatment of the issue, see Margaret Fell’s Women’s Speaking.

  • Shawn

    Just a thought, but I wonder sometimes if the reason that Scripture is not always perfectly clear on some issues is that God wants us to learn how to struggle through these things as a community. Its perhaps not the outcome that is important, but that we learn to live as a community of loving persons who dont always agree and need to debate things but still love one another.

  • Shawn and Nick,
    Healthy exchange. Two comments: First, I do not think we need to think in extremes. Church history shows that while some deny infallibility, that does not mean they have rejected the authority of Scripture. Some do not like a view, say of Pinnock’s, but it would be hard to say he does not take Scripture very, very seriously. Same for Fuller’s faculty statement.
    Second, Nick, I think you’ve got a little imbalance: it is not that we agree with Scripture if it agrees with our conscience, for that clearly shifts authority from God’s Spirit to us. We want authority to be placed in God, and we believe that God’s authority is expressed in the Bible, and we also (at least some of us) think God has spoken to the Church; and most of us also believe to some degree in reason. I think that is the proper order though; my conscience is not what I appeal to first. Whaddayathink?

  • Scot, I’m not clear how you mean the sentence on authority to be read.
    It could be read as 1) God directly, 2) scripture, 3) the “Church”, 4) reason. Read that way, that’s pretty close to my understanding.
    But it could also be read as the first phrase being simply introductory, and suggesting 1) scripture, 2) the “Church”, 3) reason. Whether or not that’s what you intended, there are a lot of folks who would go for that formulation so it’s worth talking about. IMHO, that formulation denigrates direct revelation and the promise of the Holy Spirit given to us by Jesus.

  • Bill,
    The God who speaks to us as Christians is the same God who spoke to us in Scripture — I think that’s the point. The story goes on, but it is the same story we tell — but in our world.

  • Nick

    I appeal to my concience first. I think God has given us the tools to figure things out with Him, Bible in hand or not. It’s not clear cut however, since reading scripture influences my concience. It’s a dynamic process between Scipture and extra-biblical resources (prayer, reason, etc.). If I’m stuck in forming a view or making a decision, based on finding out what scripture says, then I will appeal prayerfully to my concience/Holy Spirit. If prayer, meditation, thought, etc. don’t give me assurance then I will appeal to Scripture. But first I appeal to resources outside of Scripture because they are more readily available and more reliable to guide my path in my experience. I just believe in hearing from God by the Spirit is the main way we follow God, with Scripture as more of one way this happens, but not the dominant one. Does that make any sense?
    So for the formation of my view of women in ministry, what made an impact was reading a book by G. Bilezikian and just thinking long and hard about it, not the Bible in itself. Something extra-biblical was the only way I found Truth that matches up with Reality, and felt I heard from God. The Bible supports Bilezkian’s views I believe, but its much fuzzier than his book, not as clear on the issue.

  • Nick

    i want to rephrase what i was trying to say. i guess i see reason as the umbrella category, with scripture, friends (your community), and tradition all influencing your reasoning process. the bible is authoritative but not as an overiding factor, but a strongly influencing factor. along with friends and tradition, scripture is not always clear, not always tailored to your specific time and situation, and could be wrong because (apart from jesus) it represents the values and views of fallen human beings. reason too is fallible but if it takes into account all other helpful tools, then its the best shot we’ve got. everyone does this, since reading scripture must proceed through your reasoning mind in order to interpret its true meaning and application for your life. i guess what’s controversial about what im thinking is that you might have to rely more on resources outside of scripture at times, that may even seem to not agree with finer details of scripture (but not the teachings and character of Jesus), and nothing is necessarily wrong with that.

  • BW

    I want to jump back to Denny’s point in #15 because I think we need to take it pretty seriously. Is every kind of slavery truly evil? If so, then so is our slavery to Christ, which (according to scripture) is what truly liberates and sets us free. Would God use an intrinsically evil concept as one of the major descriptors of our union with Christ? So the question then becomes, “what kind of slavery is evil and why?” Possibly, a slavery imposed by a human being, who ultimately can’t be trusted with that kind of power. I don’t know… I think Denny’s point needs to be considered quite strenuously.

  • BW,
    I don’t know that it’s anything more than a metaphor. There’s a difference between people being “slaves” of God and being slaves of people. Only one of those actually has a claim to actually own people (because He’s their creator). Think about some of the other metaphors God uses in the Bible about his relationship with people (like divorce maybe or sacrifice – is human sacrifice, actual sacrifice, sometimes good?), and ask if you’d be comfortable with calling them good in the actual world. Again I don’t think we should try to press that metaphor to far, instead look at how Paul might have been turning everyday realities, even if they were not that great, as badges of honor or whatever for the people of God. Just my 2 cents.
    Bryan L

  • BW, I almost weighed in on this today but will reiterate what Bryan L says: Denny equivocates on “slave.” A literal use (a real slave to Pharaoh) and a metaphorical use (our dependence upon God) are not the same, and defeat the analogy.

  • alice shirey

    I personally think its repulsive for us to try to consider whether or not slavery, in any form, is evil or not. Really. Makes me wonder how many of us are African-Amerian as we weigh in on a question like that. I get the “logical argument” part of why someone would want to consider that question, but come on! To think that in any way, shape, or form one person “owning” another for the purpose of achieving the “owner’s” ends … is not wrong and dehumanizing and absolutely out of the realm of Kingdom behavior feels a little (understatement) out of touch to me. I’ve just been listening in today trying to follow the thread and the line of thinking … but had to comment on this. Come on. And, if you do want to discuss that … well, it makes me wonder where that whole conversation would lead anyway in relationship to women and men. Don’t even want to go there.
    I’ll keep listening, but had to get this statement in.
    I do not think that because Paul uses the term to describe himself in relationship to Christ means we have to sit around and try to comprehend whether the concept in practice human-to-human is wrong or not. Taking an analogy, a word picture, too far, I believe.

  • alice shirey

    Obviously, I was not the only person at this moment having somewhat similar thoughts.

  • Scot et. al.,
    I don’t think I’m “equivocating” on what a slave is. I think Paul really believed that Christ owned him, as in really owned him. Paul thought himself to be the property of Christ His creator and redeemer. As a matter of fact, he told the Corinthians, “You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
    I guess one could argue that all of this is just metaphor. In any case, metaphor or no metaphor, I think we would be hard-pressed to argue that Paul thought his subjugation to Christ to be any less absolute than that of a slave to his master. So the symbol does not indicate anything less than the reality.

  • alice shirey


  • P.S. I’m not saying I agree with everything that Dale Martin writes, but he has argued that in Paul’s Greco-Roman context, household slavery was a means of upward mobility.
    Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity by Dale B. Martin

  • Denny,
    Let’s get to the point:
    Hermeneutically, we have concluded that slavery of humans by humans is unacceptable. (Your metaphor breaks down, not only because it is metaphor vs. non-metaphor, but because it is God-humans [sui generis] and humans-humans.)
    Our conclusion that slavery is unacceptable is grounded in biblical texts that transcend other biblical texts — texts like Gal 3:28 vs. 1 Cor 7. That is the hermeneutical point. Do you disagree that this is the hermeneutical move the church made — under the leading voice of the Quakers and others — to undo slavery?

  • Scot,
    I would never say that Galatians 3:28 “transcends” any other text, especially when “transcend” means “relativize” or “negate.” We are not talking about the abrogation/fulfillment of Old Testament laws through Christ. We are talking about Paul vs. Paul.

  • Denny,
    We are not, however, talking about Paul against Paul himself, but about whether or not the Church has used Gal 3:28 against 1 Cor 7. Don’t you think that is a primary justification?

  • Scot,
    I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Are you asking me if the Church has made an ecumenical statement as to the hermeneutical relation of Galatians 3:28 to 1 Corinthians 7? Or are you asking me if large portions of the church probably pit Galatians 3:28 against 1 Corinthians 7?
    Where are you going with this?

  • If Paul’s few words to specific local church problems were really meant to be normative and timeless and a current test of orthodoxy, why don’t we find the same emphasis on male hierarchy (which is different, as I understand it, from male “heaship”) in any of the teachings of Jesus, or even the rest of Paul’s extensive writings (Romans, etc.)? Why can’t we at least start by recognizing that Paul was addressing local problems and then have grace toward one another as we try to determine how much of the specific teaching was meant to be normative or not? Is not this parallel to whether or not it is normative to require Levirate marriage, or worship on the Sabbath, or not wearing clothing constructed from two kinds of cloth, etc.? How can we individuals subjectively pick and choose which parts of the Bible’s many teachings we will consider normative? Is it whether something sounds “theological” or not, such as Paul’s argument from creation order? Does it have something to do with whether Christ “fulfilled” certain teachings which no longer need to be followed in the new covenant/order/dispensation?
    Really, how is promoting the issue of women’s roles to be such a test of orthodoxy today any different from other periods in the life of the church when some other issue was so considered? At each time Scripture was appealed to, just as it is today, and just as it was to justify slavery, war upon “ungodly” peoples, etc. The slippery slope argument could always be appealed to. If we allow slavery to be considered less than God’s ideal, what else are we going to allow to slip?
    Maybe I’ve been through too many of these cycles of tests of orthodoxy during my lifetime, but I do find them getting tiresome. I want to be as orthodox as God desires. I want to be truly biblical. But I don’t want to miss any larger spiritual principles under which which God wants us to operate if I focus too much on biblical teachings that take up a proportionately very minor amount of the canon. What can we agree on, at minimum, is a larger spiritual principle at stake in Paul’s teachings about women’s roles in the local church? Surely it has something to do with what Paul himself said about having everything be done “decently and in order”. He said that to local congregations where things weren’t done “decently and in order”. I would like to think that we could at least agree that that larger principle should be followed in each location and at each period of time. Then I would hope that we could have grace toward each other to allow for different interpretations of teachings which are given far less space in the canon.

  • Greg McR

    “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1Tim 3:14-15)
    It seems fairly obvious that Paul is asserting a much broader application than just the local situation.
    Scot, as far as equivocating on slavery goes, is it not anachronistic to equate the biblical view of slavery to the more recent experience of African slavery in America?

  • Wayne,
    Good to “see” you here. I read the Better Bible Blog with interest.
    You are making a very good point. What principles are underneath the practises we find in the NT? I believe that are principles of “decency and order” and “serving oneanother”.
    On the “proper roles” issue, there is a problem with having “grace toward each other to allow for different interpretations”. In certain interpretations, one group (the women) are not always allowed to live according to their own interpretations.

  • Shawn

    I think Denny has a point. It strikes me as deeply problematic when we start pitting one text of Scripture against another. I dont yet know what the solution is, but I dont think thats the path we should take. The Bible itself says that ALL of Scripture is useful for instruction. As soon as we start saying that sometimes Paul was only speaking for a specific time and place, we are denying that all of Scripture is God-breathed.
    In response to Nick, elevating reason above Scripture is also problematic. I have for some time now thought that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral has it about right. Scripture first, then tradition(church), reason and finally experience. For example, it seems totally unreasonable to me that a guy dying on a cross two thousand years ago could possibly wipe out my sins today. But despite the fact that I find the idea unreasonable, I submit to the authority of God in Scripture on the matter, as I do with the ressurection, which reason also would deny. Elevating reason above Scripture quickly leads to the kind of extreme liberalism which ends up denying the atonement and the literal bodily ressurection of Christ.
    It is not just that reason is fallen, it is also that reason is often little more than cultural or political prejudice.

  • Ryan

    In regards to Shawns statements (#60)and Nick (#44)- as a missionary in Africa working for a Bible translation organization (yes the big one that I am not allowed to name on the internet) I get the feeling that our ability to understand the word of God, how we see it, how we exegete it, and how the hermeneutics are applied are very much based on our culture. One of the great gifts of being a missionary is realizing that God speaks to all people through their cultures. That is, the Romans passage of God proclaiming to all peoples Himself so none are free from judgement. However, these proclamations of God are subject to the deception of evil and twisted. So the Gosple is meant to be a full revelation of truth of “who God is”, consequently, we have missionaries. I have been impressed many times by my African brothers and sisters who understand God’s character differently because of their culture and their ability to explain to me such differences (Biblically) and grow my understanding of God.
    I think my experiences have me on the side that says the scriptures are first in heiarchy of what informs my beliefs (and God willing my actions), but culture itself informs that very hiearchy. I think this is a challenge for Evangelicals because we equate the scriptures with the Word of God, but the Word of God is bigger than the scriptures and we can rely on the Holy Spirit which lives in us to guide us to understand these things. I feel like this is a threat to orthodoxy and to our “safe” Christianity of Biblical certitude, but it also allows for God to remain the mystery that we discover through the revealed Word of God that speak inside of us, the Holy Spirit (sorry for the Run on).
    In relation to the topic specifically, it seems to me exegesis is very scientific, but hermenutics is more “Spirit” directed. With the organization I work for, the exegesis is all we do, we leave the hermenutics for the Chruch leaders. While I agree the two are related (look at the exegesis New Testament writers do of the old Testament and also their hemeneutics) I feel like the hermeneutics question is difficult precisely because there are less “agreed upon rules”. What do you think?
    PS I am really learning a lot from this discussion and I am glad the thread has continued so long!

  • Denny,
    I’m simply saying that we justify non-slavery by appeal to Gal 3:28, thereby saying 1 Cor 7 is conditioned.

  • Greg,
    That’s a fair issue; but at the time neither the pro-slavery nor the anti-slavery really made their case that way. At one level, slavery as ownership of another human is slavery — regardless of the degree.

  • Bob

    This has been a good discussion!!
    Reason,Scripture,tradition, conscience,philosphy,meta-physics,intuition,the HS working in you, and experience will be used in different proportions depending on your upbringing and “bent” towards life. I believe the above work in a dance with each other. You don’t know really know which you are in at the moment. Ultimately dissions are based on what is “life affirming” for you. In marriage the above reasons apply but in the end you marry the person who is the most life affirming. Also what action is the most “beautiful”. The course of the church was different in Acts 10,11 Peter bases his decision on a dream, then the “church” validates his experience. then the gospel goes to the gentiles.
    my two cents Bob

  • I think Nick’s point in 43 of a dynamic among the ways God speaks to us, rather than a rigid hierarchy. I’m one of those people who is always frustrated when asked my favorite whatever or what is #1, because I don’t think that way. I reject the paradigm.
    The institutional church tends to want things very linear. It’s like the Indiana legislature which voted to make pi 3 because it was much simpler. You can make neat little boxes, but they won’t accurately represent truth.
    It doesn’t matter what neat little box we try to put God in, He’s not going to fit into it. We can have a neat, controlled image of God, but we go off track when we think we’ve therefore captured the essence of God.
    I treat doctrines as ways of looking at aspects of truth that can be helpful to us as long as we don’t make then mistake of thinking they are truth, or that they perfectly represent truth. They are tools to be used judiciously, but the church too often makes them idols.
    Similarly, the various organizational systems may point to some realities about the way things might work – use of different gifts of different people, organizational needs that should be addressed, etc. But no organizational system is ideal in all circumstances. The goal shouldn’t be to follow some system, but to achieve the healthy purposes the systems are attempts at achieving. And understanding that if we are under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, many different systems will be adequate, but if we are not, all systems will fail.

  • Let’s look at hermeneutics very broadly. This really serves as an expansion of my just prior message.
    It seems to me much of the church ignores the nature of the Bible in trying to use it. It isn’t a neat set of clear teachings and rules that one can just run out and follow like the Pharisees tried to be faithful by following hundreds of rules. It’s a set of a number of different kinds of literature, same stories told in different ways, different ways of looking at the same issues, etc. It wasn’t originally seen as most evangelicals and fundamentalists see it today. They never would have put in four gospels, with differences in detail and approach, if they viewed it in the “inerrant” and “infallible” way so many do today.
    It is all useful. But examining short passages to determine rules for today is not what it is useful for. When we look at it in that narrow, rigid way we actually lose much of its beauty and value to us.
    God never intended to give us a neat set of rules that we could just follow in order to be faithful. Anyone who reads the Bible with an open mind should be able to see this. We are supposed to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” praying about all things, and working together in community to discern where God would have us in any particular situation. If we’re approaching things with pat answers, we can be sure we’re not really on track with God.

  • As soon as we start saying that sometimes Paul was only speaking for a specific time and place, we are denying that all of Scripture is God-breathed.
    This is the kind of narrow view that drives me up the wall. Open your mind and heart! God works in more ways that you can imagine.
    There’s a great deal in scripture focused on a specific time and place. Think about what that may be telling us. Could that possibly be telling us that we need to be in constant discernment to understand what God would have us do in a circumstance, rather than blindly follow some rules set forth? Note that there is also a plethora of verses one could cite which suggest that message is intended.
    Scripture is meant to open our hearts and minds, not close them.
    it seems totally unreasonable to me that a guy dying on a cross two thousand years ago could possibly wipe out my sins today. But despite the fact that I find the idea unreasonable, I submit to the authority of God in Scripture on the matter, as I do with the ressurection, which reason also would deny.
    I don’t see how it can be just that it’s in the book called the Bible that gets you to believe it. There are many books out there. What gets you to accept this which is told in the Bible has got to be deeper than that.
    I hope it is the Holy Spirit convicting you. I’ve come to realize that’s not what it always is, and when it’s something different it may lead to be “Bible believing” but not a follower of Jesus.

  • I think this is a challenge for Evangelicals because we equate the scriptures with the Word of God
    While the scriptures themselves equate Christ with the Word of God. This difference is ironical.
    By changing the focus to the written word, people move away from the direct guidance of Christ. I know it’s hard to grasp, but Christ really is present and active, and able to direct us here and now. The promise really is kept.
    Christ is also shown in scripture saying He is Truth. But people want to treat the book as Truth instead because it seems easier to them. But that is idolatry and blasphemy.
    Hope I haven’t outrun your patience in all my ranting. You can see I feel passionately about this.

  • BW

    I guess when you go to sleep you miss the opportunity of staying connected to the ongoing dialogue, so this might be a tad late. Denny touches on it, but I’ll say it more clearly; I wouldn’t call my “slavery” to Christ a metaphor. That’s what it actually is. This is what I love about the faith; everything is backwards. Only when I am truly a slave to Christ am I really free. Dallas Willard seems to imply this in chapter 7 of “The Spirit of the Disiplines”. His contention is that we spiritualize Paul’s words and views (by claiming everything is metaphorical) in a such a way that we actually change what he’s saying. His point is: No, Paul really saw himself this way; this isn’t just religious jargon.

  • Bill, I like your rants. But not all Evangelicals equate the scriptures with the Word of God. Certainly the Scriptures are part of the living Word–that is Christ himself. And certainly they are the most tangible manifestation of the Word of God.
    Stereotypically, the evangelicals I know (and love and worship with) want to apply scripture to their lives in a practical way. That’s why we sometimes leap to thinking of the Bible as a set of rules for godly living. It’s a mistake to do so, but an understandable one.
    And isn’t this conversation trying to apply scriptural truth in a practical way? We are discussing how to apply the New Testament’s teaching about first century women in our 21st century churches.
    I am loving this thread.

  • BW,
    The issue is what you mean by “really”. Paul saw his relationship to Christ in terms of a slave’s relation to a master; he wasn’t the same kind of slave — good grief, Paul could travel around. If you want to make the metaphor bigger, fine; Paul would too, but it remains metaphorical rather than “real/literal.”
    I would simply reiterate: we don’t understand real slaves by appealing to how the metaphor works; it is the other way around — real slaves shed light on our relationship to Christ. This is the point of Thiselton’s New Horizons and also C. Gunton’s The Actuality of the Atonement when they deal with metaphors.

  • alice shirey

    BW – I don’t think anyone is arguing that we should not see ourselves as slaves to Christ. Redeemed by His blood, purchased and pardoned by His sacrifice, but we are also called adopted sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends (so don’t just pound on the slave picture) … I think our problem (or at least mine) was the logic of then implying that because we are to see ourselves as the servant or slave of Christ, we must then imply that slavery is good. Don’t buy it. It pushes the image way, way too far. And it reeks of the arrogance of people who’ve never been literal slaves in this life sitting around bantering about whether or not the concept of literal human-to-human slavery is really evil or not.
    Again, this kind of hyperliteral reading of Scripture and its subsequent hyperliteral application to real life makes my skin itch. It has gotten us (the collective us) into all kinds of trouble. Again, reminds me of the Pharisees who couldn’t see past the law to the Spirit.

  • “as a missionary in Africa working for a Bible translation organization (yes the big one that I am not allowed to name on the internet)”
    Ryan, I’m one of your co-workers. Please contact me through the organization’s email system or via my private email address on my blog (click on my name to get there).
    Oh, yes, there is much that we interpret through cultural grids. And there is much in the biblical texts themselves which were written within cultural grids. Sometimes it is essential that we remove ourselves a step or two to discover what would be the acultural principle that would apply to us. It is a fact that the Bible was not actually written to you and me, nor, for that matter, for anyone we help translate it for. But we have the privilege of reading over the shoulders of the original recipients of the parts of the Bible. I personally suspect that much of the debate over women’s roles would become better focuses if we took into greater consideration the original cultural context and then tried to find parallels with our own. That’s not to say that everything is culturally relative in the Bible. I don’t believe in such relativism.

  • BW

    Certainly, some images are repulsive to some because of their experiences. I know a woman who said she found the concept of God as her Father repulsive because of what her Father did to her as a child. But that doesn’t make the concept bad or wrong as you know. As I mentioned before, I gladly say that human to human slavery is the result of our sinfulness and is not desirable or commendable.
    But I don’t think we can say “All slavery is evil”, because there is one kind of slavery that isn’t, my slavery to Christ that leads to joy, freedom and liberation. We absolutely need to be careful and compassionate with our language and presentation, but simply because a concept is understandably offensive to some doesn’t mean it should be abandoned, which I’m sure you agree with. The point of tension, I’m feeling, is the degree to which we use and speak of it. But at least for me, I don’t want to minimize or spiritualize away the concept of slavery to Christ.

  • real slaves shed light on our relationship to Christ.
    I can’t say I follow the entire discussion on slavery, but might I suggest your comment applies also to male headship in the home and church? It sheds light on our relationship to Christ and His relationship to us, as well.

  • BW

    I’m sorry, that last post should have been addressed to Alice. To you, Scot, obviously, he was a different slave, without question. One led to life, led to joy, led to everything he truly desired. He was free, but only because he indeed was a slave to the One who is Good.

  • Shawn

    “This is the kind of narrow view that drives me up the wall. Open your mind and heart! God works in more ways that you can imagine.”
    My mind and heart are open thanks. Please dont be patronising. My view is not narrow, but an affirmation that ALL of Scripture is God-breathed and useful for instruction here and now. That means that we cannot dismiss any part of Scripture as purely and exclusively time/culture conditioned or relevant.
    “I don’t see how it can be just that it’s in the book called the Bible that gets you to believe it. There are many books out there. What gets you to accept this which is told in the Bible has got to be deeper than that.”
    Yes, its both Word and Spirit that testify to the truth. But as Paul said, the cross was foolishness to the Greeks (those who elevated reason above all else).