The Whorish Woman at the Well?

I read a sermon review the other day, one that made me think of a familiar passage of Scripture in a light I had not before. The passage of Scripture was John 4, where Jesus met the woman at the well. In the past, I have taught or been taught this passage with the following dynamic: woman sinful, Jesus good. I mean that fits rights? A woman who has had a bunch of husbands, and is living with a man who isn’t her husband now, pretty clear to see she is a vile sinner! However, The reviewer pointed out some things I had not really considered before. The first being that only men could ask for divorce in that time period, so the woman (even if she was particularly difficult to live with) was not automatically the cause of the many marriages. In addition, in that time period, women and children depended on their husband for their support. She was likely not able to go snag a job on the internet when her husbands left her, so living with a man who wasn’t her husband may have been the only way for her to survive. I had never thought about this story with these contextual insights before. Now clearly this woman was in the wrong living with a man who was not her husband; however, what we see here is that maybe she isn’t a willful whore, but one who has an entire system of oppression on her back. Maybe Jesus’ compassion for her was because He understood all that she had to go through and He came to offer her salvation from her sin, and to speak against cultural oppression. At the very least, it helped me empathize with her, instead of just condemning her with my “righteous judgement.” This incident caused me to smack myself around for falling into the exegetical fallacy of anachronism (and who says nothing good happens on twitter).

The Anachronism Fallacy is where the customs, beliefs, or action from one time period are read into to a different time period. As people who study the Bible and seek to derive its meaning in context, this can be a huge blindspot.  In my opinion, anachronism is one of the easiest exegetical fallacies for us to commit because it is so easy to do! Most of us who read our bibles are ignorant to the cultural norms and practices of 1st Century Palestine, let alone ancient Israel. We don’t easily understand all that a contemporary reader/hearer of the Bible would. In addition, because we miss the context, it is easy for us to fill the unknowns of the culture in with what we are familiar with, and draw conclusions that the Bible would not support. One of my favorite theologians is Martin Luther, and he held to a doctrine called the Perspicuity of Scripture, which meant that all things necessary for salvation were so clear in the Bible that a person of average intelligence would be able to discern them simply by reading the text. While I agree with that, I believe a necessary corollary be added: not all things we need to understand from Scripture are plain to the unstudied; and no place is this more clear to me than with this idea of anachronism. 

Think about the word church. When you read the opening of the letters in the New Testament addressed to “the church,” what do you picture? If you are like me, I always pictured a building similar to what we have today. As I studied a bit more, I began to think of a building more akin to a medieval church building. Neither of those are correct. The churches that these letters were written to were house churches, meeting in cities where this nascent Jesus movement spread. That churches were in homes and not buildings like ours may give us a different understanding of the instructions given to the church. Maybe we understand Paul a little better in I Corinthians 14:34 if we realize the women he is charging to be silent are likely in a small room, seated with other women, possibly not understanding the language that the teacher is using to teach, or why there may have been a great difference in how the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in a far more intimate gathering than the modern day mega church provides. Think about the impact for church style, leadership and so many other things if we understand just this one aspect of early church culture. We know that we cannot properly interpret the Bible without understanding the literary context of a passage, but equally important is understanding the cultural context of what we are ready. Failure to do so is why we can call things that good gifts from God wrong (alcohol), and things that are absolutely wrong, good (homosexuality).

The way we fight against anachronism is only through study of the time periods and locations that the Bible addresses, and because the Bible spans thousands of years, and many different geographic areas, this study can be very time consuming; however, it is the only way we can draw accurate conclusions as to what the meaning of a text is. Only after understanding the meaning can we derive the principles that are in action, and then apply them to the modern day. This is one of the reasons I believe the Apostle Paul charged Timothy to “make every preach the Word of God accurately,” (2 Timothy 2:15) and why I support the idea that we do not allow those who are not studied well into our pulpits. It is also one of the reasons we need to be wary of internet theologians who read something and apply it without considering the context it was written in. Too often people will tell us they researched something thoroughly, but never studied properly. We then take those conclusions, run with them, and end up holding beliefs that are absolutely contrary to the faith. 

It’s easy to forget the command of Christ to the disciples to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” as He sent them out as sheep surrounded by wolves, but in this day and age I don’t know that there is a more important charge to us. (Matthew 10:16) Many of those we think are sheep are actually wolves, and we have to know enough to be able to spot them. In a day where we want everything now, there is no replacement for the hard work of studying and understanding the Scripture in context.

Political Theology

I am pretty Augustinian when I come to what I believe about salvation. If that doesn’t mean much to you, that’s OK, its more commonly known and expounded on by John Calvin, and goes by Calvinism in a lot of circles. One of the key points in this system is that humans are totally depraved, meaning they do not seek nor do they want to do good. There are a lot of reasons I believe this to be true, Scripture and the like, but the place I find this to be most glaring is on Twitter. The amount of vitriol and hate that spews from all corners of the Twitter-verse is a confirmation, at least to me, of this tenant of Augustinian thought. It’s almost humorous how people can turn innocent statements into fights to the death; case in point, I saw Beth Moore raked over the coals for buying a new puppy.

Seriously, what has our discourse come to? While I don’t think its fine that we deal with people on social media with an unyielding bent that would make the old Soviet Union seem compliant, it is definitely sinful when we carry this type of discourse, or rigidity to discourse with fellow believers, about areas of disagreement we have in theology. It seems like many of us have taken our cues for discussion from the political area where evisceration of those who disagree with us is required, instead of from the Bible. Sure, there are certainly some areas in the realm of the Christian life that we cannot agree to disagree, but those areas are far smaller than we like to think they are. In my view, those who can affirm the ancient creeds of the faith, the Nicene and the Apostle’s, are brothers and sisters in the faith. We may disagree on how we do church, how we view salvation, and a whole host of other issues, but they are my family. Unfortunately, I believe that has become a minority view. We want to define our circles so narrowly that everyone who doesn’t agree with us on major and minor issues aren’t welcome in our fellowships, cannot be on our leadership teams, and have a questionable relationship with the Lord. I am not sure how we read the words of the Lord and are able to treat those who disagree with us so poorly, but we continue to do this, and not only on social media.

It may surprise us to learn that this is not new. The Apostle Paul had to deal with people who wanted to keep drawing their circles narrowly instead of embracing the unfathomable grace that God gives in Christ. We read his rebuking of the Galatians for wanting to add works of the Law to the Gospel, and laugh at their ignorance; while we make the same type of judgments on those who disagree with us. It has become so bad, at least to me, that I told Rachel recently we are going to have to change denominations and go to one where people are allowed to disagree with the dogma of the “enlightened,” and focus on pushing the Gospel forward. My denomination left me, because they have adopted the ways of politicians instead of the ways of Jesus.

If you have watched the Civil War series by Ken Burns, you no doubt remember Shelby Foote (best present I got this year was his Civil War narrative history, thanks baby!) and his commentary. A stately Southern gentleman, he gave some amazing insights on the War. One of the things he said that struck me was that the Civil War resulted from a failure of politicians to compromise, which was the absolute genius of our political system. Compromise was required to get things done. No one person, or party, or faction, or section of the country got to decide for everyone else. Discussion, debate, and persuasion was required because we were all members of the same family, America. This has been lost in the modern political age, and I fear it has been lost in our modern theological age as well. We are so ignorant of history. Politics and religion mingling as bedfellows and discourse partners brought us the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Remember them, they are the ones who killed our Lord; and the same spirit is destroying our unity in Christ.

Halfhearted Followers Aren’t Followers

I was reading through one of my favorite theological newsletters recently, Facebook, and came across a story I had forgotten in the Bible. It is about a king in Judah during the time of the divided Kingdom, when Israel was full of wicked kings and Judah was full of mostly wicked kings. Judah, however; had the slight advantage because all of its kings were not necessarily horrible. There were some kings that sought to honor God, even if they were few in number.

The story of this king, Amaziah is found in II Kings and also in II Chronicles, and it is the passage in II Chronicles 25, specifically verse 2, that caught my eye. Often it is easy to skip over this type of history in the Bible, and I probably have read this many times and it never struck me. The chronicler says this about Amaziah “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…” which sounds really awesome. I think all of us who are Christ followers would want this said about us, wouldn’t we? Jim – he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord! What a great narrative of our lives!

Unfortunately for Amaziah, that is not all the narrator said, he concluded “but not wholeheartedly.” BOOM. Amaziah was outwardly seeking to do what was right, but his heart was not in it. Perhaps it was to curry favor with the people in Judah, or because it was what his parents wanted, or because it was expected of him. In any case, Amaziah’s commitment to the Lord was marginal at best. In fact, later in this chapter we can read how he slaughtered the Edomites, brought back foreign gods to Judah, and worshiped them. His true loyalty was not to the Lord, but to his own desires. 

Isn’t that the story of most of the Christian life we see today? We see it in the prosperity preacher: love God because He will make you rich! We see it in the people who love God, go to church, and give “everything” they have in pursuit of Him, until their lives turn sorrowful. We see it in the folks who go to church for 20, 30, 40 or more years, but whose lives are far from on mission for His glory. We see people serve God halfheartedly, and then we abandon Him when its expedient. Sometimes that expedience is political: people believe their convictions are what God wants so they bend their morality towards those who align with their view of government. People we know sell out their principles and morals for the sake of being “right” politically. The truth is politicians use Christians on both sides to keep their power. We see this happen in people’s relationships. They love God as long as their girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband does. If it changes, they turn away from God to find pleasure in other things. We see this socially. People love God when everyone agrees with what God says about their cultural beliefs, but when the culture turns on those beliefs, they abandon God to stick with cultural. When people turn their back on doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord they begin the decline into an irrelevant Christian life; at best, at worst they completely forsake Him, like we see in Psalm 1:1-2.

Any commitment that is not wholehearted is not a commitment. The story of Amaziah teaches us that we can proclaim how much we love God and will do what’s right, while our hearts are far from Him, His values, and His mission.

I have been in the place of Amaziah too many times, and for too long at times, to not feel immense conviction from that simple statement “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.”  I do not want to identify with Amaziah anymore. I want my wife, my kids, and my friends to be able to say “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” PERIOD. The life of a Christ follower is hard work. We have to stand out because what we believe is often unpopular in culture, in church, in politics – at least for me it is. We have to be committed, because if it is done right, it will cost us everything. We have to be wise, because people will try to use us to get ahead. We have to be vigilant, because people and powers we don’t understand are seeking to steer us off course.

Simply stated, we have to love God more than we love anything else, all the time, always. 

How committed am I to the Lord: His will, His way, His time, His joy, His blessing, His sorrow, His purpose, and His mission? That question rings in my head, and can be haunting if I am not absolutely sold out to Him. Anything less is playing at being a Christ follower. Imagine what would happen if we as believers, stopped being halfhearted in our commitments to God. Imagine what would happen if we sought to be holy, instead of being OK being whitewashed tombs, as Jesus called the Pharisees. I say this to myself and to you: Christ follower – stop settling for the half assed life and embrace the mission of God.

This Thing Isn’t Easy

One of the things we don’t talk about much, it seems, is the mistakes that we make while in the ministry. Now, I don’t want to mislead you, of course pastors are perfect…..well if you know me, you know that isn’t true. I am not sure why some others won’t readily admit it, but I have made quite a few mistakes while serving in the local church. In most cases, the mistakes are benign, a phone call and/or an apology and all is forgiven. Contrary to popular belief among ministers, I have always found most people I have served to be caring, thoughtful, and people I really love.

There are sometimes, however; when the mistakes we make are really painful, not only to the church we serve, but to our family, and to ourselves. Thankfully, these are usually minimal (because if you make too many you will get fired or divorced pretty quick), but they can stay with you. I can think of three major mistakes that I have made pretty readily, one I wrote about here, the other is for another day, but my biggest failure I feel as a pastor, I wanted to discuss a bit.

I never wanted to be a pastor. I grew up outside the church, and the idea of going to church bored me. I didn’t have any animus towards God, but I didn’t necessarily care to find out more about Him either. My story, like so many others, found me seeking after God because I met a hot girl. I was so very spiritual I know, but the Lord pursued me anyway, and after He reconciled me, I knew that He was calling me to serve in the local church. I went to seminary, and I served with other leaders in our church, and it was really great. One of the principles I learned in my training was that the church should fight for unity, and it was to be the utmost priority. I was told horror stories of churches that divided over doctrine or carpet color, and I agreed that unity had to be primary to make this whole church thing work. I never really found a time when I had to question that conclusion.

That was until my family was called to serve on the staff of a new church in a far away land. Rachel and I had predominately served in large churches, and church plants, so going to a medium-sized traditional church was a context we had not been in for some time. I was also an associate pastor, which took a little getting used to mentally for me.

Initially the transition went well, though the area we lived in was quite unique in the United States: in South Texas on the Mexican border. If you have ever watched Border Wars, there were several episodes shot right around where we lived. Despite the challenges and changes that shocked the system, we quickly fell in love with many of the people that we were serving and we have yet to serve in another place that has been more rewarding. Our kids were serving in youth and with friends in Mexico, we were active in so many ways, and I loved the job I had.

“Jim, so where is the problem,” you ask? The relationship I had with the lead pastor was not good. Not that we weren’t friendly, but our doctrine just did not line up, and that is a kind way of saying that while both of us claimed to be Orthodox, one of us held to Orthodox beliefs and the other did not. The derivation from Orthodoxy was quite severe and I knew that Rachel and I could not stay in that environment if nothing changed, though it would really hurt us if we had to go. If we did stay and the siutation was unchanged, we would be endorsing some very bad theology, and I felt I would be trading God in for a paycheck. I agonized over this decision for weeks. Since I believed that unity was the highest requirement in church I was in a real quandary: do I bring the issues up to someone (other than the pastor, that was already being done), or do I quietly resign and move on. Rachel and I struggled mightily as we sought advice, prayer, and wisdom. Ultimately we decided we should resign and move on. It was that decision that I regret most. Please don’t hear me say that I wanted to cause trouble. I did not. However, by not raising the issues up to other leadership, and resigning, I let the church and pastor off the hook. No one was there to hold them accountable, no one was there to keep pushing back, and no one was left to protect the flock.

When we left the church several people asked why, and we kept the information very minimal, save a few really close friends who prayed through it with us, but we ended up losing a great deal of friends who were told “the real reasons” why we left. Rachel and I both sunk into very low points and it led to the only real marital crisis we have had in 21 years.

I think leaving was the biggest mistake I have made in ministry, and not just because it has scarred my resume so that its been hard to land solid jobs since. It was a mistake because I believed, somewhere inside me, that the Gospel was not the most important thing in the church. I believed that it would be wrong to call out heresy because I wasn’t the lead pastor….and then I read Galatians and I am cut to my core. Paul called out an Apostle for his wrongdoing. Paul called it out publicly and privately. Paul would not let the Gospel be bastardized for anyone – including Peter – and I think to myself “what could God have done if I would have put the Gospel first?” These are not revelations I like to share about myself, and if you know me, you know I tend to think highly of my decision-making prowess. I only share them now because I can trace back so many years of struggle in my relationship with the Lord to that one decision. It has made me skeptical, gun-shy, and critical. I have blamed the Lord for not doing right by me, when I failed to stand up for the most precious truth there is out there: Jesus died to save sinners. I have talked to so many folks, most not in the ministry, who say “Jim you just have to let it go” or “it’s fine, move on” or “that’s hard, but you have to move on.” I know they don’t get it. They don’t understand the deep passion that God has to give for Himself to those who serve Him vocationally, they don’t understand how wounding it is, and how painful. It’s hard for them to connect a passion for the local church, because they view it as a once a week get together, not the hope of the world. It sucks to stand up for what’s right in the wrong way, and then have to live with it. To see the people who were wrong continue on as if nothing happened, continue to hurt a church, and feel like you could have helped stop it. I wish I can say I have stopped blaming myself, or being upset about this situation, but I cannot. It still haunts me.

What is my point in writing this? It is not like I have figured it all out, or to have people who know or were involved in these events rehash them. I write this for three reasons, the first being you never know the struggles those who serve vocationally in your church are going through. Many people see the Sunday experience and do not understand how eagerly and earnestly the powers of evil are waging war on them. Pray for your ministry teams to be able to make the right decisions, not the popular ones. Secondly, I write all this to encourage you (wow, what an encouragement right) who are in similar places: cling to the Gospel. It is better to be thrown out of a church for proclaiming the truth, then to stay under those who corrupt it, or in my case to walk away. You do not want to look back and have the same regrets I do. Lastly, I say this to myself most of all: God saved us to be His children (I John 3:1). He lavished that gift upon us, and good parents do not continue to lord their children’s mistakes over them. Good parents forgive, and encourage their children to accept that forgiveness. I pray and thank the Lord that I am finally beginning to internalize that, and I pray that this truth helps you to let go of all the things you punish yourself for over and over again. It hinders your embrace of God’s love, and it snuffs out the voice He is calling with you to new things.

This ended up being more sermonic than I was expecting, and I apolgize for that. I know some of you may know the events recounted here in detail, and it has been long enough now that we can let sleeping dogs lie, this about my experience. I hold no ill-will to anyone but myself, and I pray for great things from the Lord for all those involved in this part of our story.

To God be the Glory!

Women in Ministry, Part 7 – Women as Leaders

This is my penultimate post in this series as we look at the allowable roles for women in the New Testament church to see if there are any restrictions on their ability to serve in church positions. As we saw in Part 6 (here), I concluded that there is not enough exegetical evidence to conclude that we should bar women from teaching in the local church and practically almost all churches function in this way. The discussion in this post may seem a bit similar, but there is a big distinction between teaching in church (to all kinds of people), and serving in one of the offices given to the church.

The offices that we find in the New Testament church are elder (which includes pastor & bishop) and deacon. We could probably fill quite a few books discussing these roles and their scope, but I will short circuit that discussion for the sake of brevity. Elders serve as the leaders of the church spiritually. We see Paul appointing elders to steward the churches that he planted, and their goal was to make sure the church stayed on the right spiritual track. Deacons are seen as lead servants, possibly functioning as ministry heads. There has been recent discussion that the deacon ministry included letter carriers (like Phoebe), and our idea of a hard fast “office” maybe malleable. I will stick to the traditional understanding of the roles for this post. The main passage we use for this assessment will come from I Timothy 3:1-13.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Should Women Be Deacons?

We will start with the easy one, and my answer is a resounding yes. I think the Scripture gives us examples of a female deacon (Phoebe) so our understanding of Paul’s  instruction in I Timothy 3:8-13 have to take that into an account. In the ESV above we see a bit of translation bias from the ESV as it renders “their wives” in verse 11. The Greek word is simply “women” and is rendered here as wives because the translators have concluded it cannot mean women deacons. The Greek lacks the personal pronoun that would be expected to support “deacons wives” as the translation, so a better rendering would be “female deacons.” There are a few transitions that give us some interpretative clues in this passage: likewise is used to transition between elders and deacons, and also to transition between general qualities for deacons and then specific qualities for the male and female deacons. Female deacons are instructed to guard their tongues, and male deacons are called to lead their families well. Paul is addressing the weakness of each group in the Ephesian context. The  principle we can discern here is that all types of deacons have weaknesses, and we have to be careful to not miss our blind spots. The division of men and women here is ancillary to the greater context.

Should Women Be Elders?

Hermeneutically and traditionally speaking, this question is by far the more difficult to answer. The reason why is squarely on verse 2 where elders are told to be “husbands of one wife.” Unlike the deacon passage that addresses wives, there is no real qualification that reveals a division for male elders. Titus 1:6 also reinforces this idea when it says the same thing, “husband of one wife.” Those who believe that women are restricted from serving as elders will point to this verse as the primary reason why. It is pretty clear that Paul has men in view in this statement, and the addition of Titus 1:6 elevates the teaching to a broader context then just Ephesus, universalizing this requirement. However, those who believe that women can be elders would say that Paul is addressing the situation in the context of Ephesus, where all the elders were likely men (because they were the qualified people), and also that men were the ones who were being unfaithful to their marital relations. In I Timothy 5:9 Paul required that women who were enrolled on the widows list had to have been faithful to their husbands showing that Paul wanted marital fidelity for both sides of the marriage relationship. The Ephesian context also made it clear that women were engaged in spreading false teaching and that was something an elder was to stand in opposition to. In addressing Titus 1:6, they would say that the same conclusion applies in Crete as it did in Ephesus: Paul was addressing the reality of the situation and not establishing a dogma to follow for all time. Exegetically speaking, both arguments are plausible.  The traditionalist will say that allowing women to be pastors by calling Paul’s requirements “cultural” is twisting scripture to make it fit cultural, while conveniently ignoring other clear teachings of Scripture as well (see post 6). Likewise, those who are more liberal in their application of truth will use the text in the same way.

In the end, I believe there is not enough evidence to conclude one way or the other on the topic of women elders, which leaves it up to the Spirit to guide and direct in each church body. I don’t find churches that have only male elders to be wantonly heretical, nor do I find churches that ordain men and women to be so either. Personally, I believe that we need to require qualified people to serve as elders, and that we have far too many people serving as elders who are unqualified. I would much rather we address refining the elders that we have in the church, instead of adding requirements to the list of elders that maybe suspect.

I will say that one of the corollaries to churches that ordain women is that they tend to be very liberal when it comes to other points of theology, discounting Scripture that is far clearer because they have a political or emotional agenda. I tend to think that colors our exegetical view of the arguments they make supporting women in ministry. I believe that there is a real need for conservative scholars to addressing this topic (primarily female elders) with an open mind while continuing to reject the abysmal exegesis that justifies God blessing homosexual marriage, etc… There is a tradition of conservative Biblical exegetes that have concluded women are not to be barred from any ministry in the church. It is not a liberal / conservative issue at its core but an exegetical and hermeneutical one.

In the last post in this series I want to wrap up the big picture of what I think the church can learn from examining the topic of women in ministry, and even if we don’t find that the Spirit is leading us to change our view to embrace a wider viewpoint, what we need to draw from the discussion to reform our positions to consistency to the Scripture.

I have included my doctoral project that much of this series has drawn on. I think this is a pre-final version, but it doesn’t include a lot of unnecessary information that I had to include in the final so I apologize for any typos.





Women in Ministry, Part 6 – Women Should Be Silent

We have reached part six (part 5 is here), and we are closing in on the finish line. We have reached our Rubicon River, the place where once we cross we can never go back to our former lives. Well, not really, but we are hitting two of the most used, and some would say abused, verses regarding the roles of women in church. The question before us is, in what capacity women should be allowed to teach or preach in the church gathering? Those from a non-Christian background may find this question a bit ridiculous, but it is by no means so. There are verses that appear to limit the scope of a woman’s role in teaching, and for that matter speaking in the church assembly. How we understand these two verses that address this subject directly, will go a long way in determining what limitations we must impose on women teaching.
Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, 10 but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control. I Timothy 2:9-15.
the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 35 If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. I Corinthians 14:34-35

These two verses are THE verses that shut the door to establishing women as teachers in the local church. We are going to look at them together because they basically say the same thing (I Corinthians 14 with a little more rhetorical flourish). What does Paul say in these passages: women should be silent, women should be submissive when learning, women should not have authority over men, women speaking is a disgrace in church, and that women are saved by childbirth. Now we know that Paul does not literally mean that having a child is the redemptive price of women (or kiss Ephesians 2:8-9 goodbye), so we have to keep that in mind in understanding the argument Paul is making in I Timothy 2:9-16, as it establishes the idea that he is arguing against local heresy and not teaching a timeless practice. We might say the same thing about I Corinthians where we see Paul instructing them in their aberrant practices of Christianity as well.

Does Paul actually call for women to be silent? We know that is not a universal command because Paul gave instruction on how women should pray and prophecy in the local assembly in I Corinthians 11:2-16. While some scholars suggest that Paul actually changed his mind between I Corinthians 11 and I Corinthians 14 (and didn’t go back and change it), we can conclude that absolute silence in church is not what Paul has in mind. If we look closer at I Timothy 2:11-13, we get a picture not of silence, but of a quiet spirit. Paul wants these women to learn without being proud, boastful, or spreading their poisonous heresy. This is why he adds the call to submissiveness. This doesn’t mean “doormat to men,” it means be submissive to the people who are teaching God’s truth, something they were not doing. The cure for bad doctrine is good doctrine, and Paul wants the women to learn it. In addition, we have to remember that women in this time period were not educated, and considered property. In most cases, they would be unqualified to teach, and that is probably one of the reasons they were led into the heresy they were promoting. That helps us understand I Timothy, but what about I Corinthians 14 which says it is disgraceful for a women to teach. I would argue that this very well might have been true in Corinth (especially after what we saw in I Corinthians 11:2-16), but it does not mean women speaking should be thought of as always disgraceful (or why give the instruction for them speaking in the same letter?). I would also say, there is a pretty convincing argument that I Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation, and not actually in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians making it non-authoratative for believers (see note at bottom).

Paul also says that women should not have any authority over men. The word translated as authority is extremely difficult to translate. The Greek word αὐθεντέω occurs only once in the Bible (this is called a hapax legomenon), and it is a very uncommon word in the extra biblical writing of the day, so establishing exactly what Paul meant is difficult. The best English rendering of this word is probably close to the KJV, which stated women should not usurp authority from men. Give the context, this makes sense. As women were spreading heresy, they were usurping authority they did not have. The were not qualified or designated to proclaim the truth of God’s word. Paul would not have them taking the authority away from the men in whom it rested to proclaim their false doctrine. In general, we should be very careful to conclude anything too rigid from an interpretation based largely on a hapax legomenon, especially when there is an equally valid interpretation that does not require a dogmatic conclusion. While this may yield some uncertainty, it prevents us from using a wrong conclusion that we like better.

What conclusions should we draw from these two passages then? Well the principles we can clearly derive without much debate are that those who are unqualified should not teach. A man that is a novice or not able to divide the Word properly should be barred from teaching, just as a woman in the same predicament should be. We also can conclude that anyone who teaches heretical or false doctrine should be barred from teaching: corrupting the Scripture is not allowed. There is an old adage that says if you find someone teaching something completely new and original from the Scripture run far away from that person. This applies to both men and women. I think we can also conclude that Paul wanted us to guard the teaching ministry and not allow those who were not willing to learn and be under others authority to hold sway over local assemblies. Beyond that, concluding that women are barred from all teaching is a stretch that we do not have to make based on the exegesis of these passages, and that if we do make could harm the church in its impact and influence.

In reality, Complementarians know this to be true. All we have to do is look at how many ways Complementarian church leaders disobey these commands. Have you ever been in a church where women were not allowed to speak? That talking or asking a question was seen as disgraceful? “Now Jim, you are being too rigid…Paul obviously thought women could say hello others!” That, unfortunately, is not a conclusion you get to draw from this passage if you believe we have to take it literally. If Complementarians believe that Paul meant women should not speak, THEY SHOULD NOT SPEAK AT ALL. The same can be said of teaching. I have yet to go to a church where a woman was not teaching in the children’s ministry, or leading women’s bible studies. If Complementarians believe that women should never teach, then it is gross sin to allow them to teach our most impressionable (children) and our must gullible (women by their conclusions, not mine). I have also been to many Complementarian churches that have women serving as “directors” of ministries that have men under their leadership. Another violation of this passage. In reality, Complementarians tell us they don’t believe these passages are as clear as they make them out to be by how they do ministry in their assembly. Jesus said that we will know them (false teachers, I am not calling Complementarians false teachers…I don’t believe that either side of this issue rises to the level of heresy, I believe they are inconsistent teachers) by their fruit, meaning we know what people really believe by what they do. If the passage was meant to bar all women for all time from teaching, then those who believed that would do it and not equivocate.

In most cases, I believe that Complementarians restrict women from teaching based on these verses in an effort to be biblical. I think the idea that individuals want to suppress women is overstated, and in most cases is absolutely a sinful argument to make. I also believe that much of this belief system is based on traditional conclusions. These conclusions derive from practices from an era where qualified women would just not have existed. The culture was extremely patriarchal, and our practice in this area is one where context has been ignored. This has systematical denied women the ability to teach in the church. This is one of the reasons I wanted to write this series to challenge us to hold true to the Reformation ideal of getting the text right, and practicing the principles we find in context.

I am as conservative as they come when it comes to Biblical interpretation, but I am also not a traditionalist. I try not carry the weight of traditional argumentation into my exegesis, and I try to be objective. I hope that you can see my love for the text of the Scripture in these posts.

In our penultimate post we are going to examine what restrictions we find for the two Biblical offices of the local church: elder and deacon. I am really thankful to those who read these and I am thankful that we can understand together, and can agree and disagree together in the Body of Christ!

Interpolations are not uncommon in the New Testament, but very often they are easy to spot and have been identified before the text is composed. There are a very small number that made their way into our bibles. You will often see bracketed sections in modern translations that indicate a passage that was not original to the author but added later on due to a variety of reasons. In many cases scribes knew about the dubious origins of these passages and marked them accordingly. I Corinthians 14:34-45 bears many similarities to other well accepted interpolations such as John 7:53-8:11, I John 5:7-8, and Mark 16:9-20. These two verses appear in different places in I Corinthians 14 (called wandering), which is a signal that the scribes copying the text were unsure where it was supposed to go. This usually happened because the text was written in a margin of the document they were copying, due to its similarity to I Timothy 2, these verses could very well be notes from another author intensifying Paul’s commands. The phrase “as the law says” is quite unlike Paul in his writings. Nowhere else does he appeal to the law for how Christians should function in the New Testament church, giving rise to the idea that he may not have written it. There are also copies of the text (codexes) which indicate the scribes thought these two verses may not be original. The copyists marked them so later scribes would understand that their provenance was in question, Codex Fuldensis for example. The argument is very interesting and I find it persuasive, but not required for my conclusions. I would recommend further reading on the subject if you are so inclined.

Women in Ministry, Part 5 – Headship

As we start into an analysis of some of the New Testament passages regarding women in ministry, I feel like Josiah Bartlett in season 6 of the West Wing. The President is negotiating a peace deal with Israeli and Palestinian representatives, but won’t address the only real issue that matters in the discussion till the end of the negotiations when the sides have made real progress. The issue, what to do about Jerusalem, was the most critical, and also the most difficult.

This is where we sit right now in our discussion of women in ministry after finishing our discussion of the prerequisites (Post 4 here). I have laid out a foundation for understanding the role of women without prejudice, and highlighted the unity of man and woman in the Garden, but if we are going to conclude that God wants women to have equal access to church leadership as men, our most difficult discussions are just starting. There are 3 key texts that we have to examine to see what God says about: headship, teaching, and eldership/deacon-hood which are the leadership offices found in the New Testament church.

Headship is the idea that God created man as the “head” or leader of his woman. Passages in I Corinthians 11:2-15 and I Timothy 2:11-15 are going to need to be dealt with to understand headship, if it is a thing, and what we can conclude about it. The role of women teaching/preaching in the church is addressed primarily in I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:11-15, and will be the second set of verses we look at. Lastly, I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 will need to be discussed in relation to eldership & deacon-hood and if they are allowable for women. These posts will probably longer than the others, and I will probably have to leave some areas uncovered or just gloss over  them due to the complexity of the issues. I am more than happy to discuss anything unclear.

The first question we will look at is the idea of my headship, is it really a thing? At the outset, let me say that I am not going to look at Ephesians 5:23 or I Peter 3:1 because those in context, are about husband and wife relationships. That is on the periphery of what we are talking about here, but lest anyone be concerned that I am dodging them, I am not. If there are any questions about how those tie in, I would be glad to address them in the future.

One of the most difficult genres to translate in the Bible is the epistle type (apocolyptic is the most difficult in my estimation). In addition to understanding all of the things we need to know for other types of literature (time, date, author, reason for writing, cultural understanding, language) there is also the variable of not knowing the exact situation or questions that the author is addressing. More often then not, the author assumes we know the immediate context of their writing, and doesn’t lay it out for the reader. The recipients knew the context but we do not, and much of that knowledge is lost to history. Understanding just what the author means becomes even more difficult in these cases, so again, deriving principles is more our goal than deriving direct practice. Much of what the early church did was due to their culture.

I Corinthians 11:2-16

Staring with I Corinthians 11:2-16 we see the Apostle Paul addressing the topic of proper “attire” at gatherings of the church, especially when women pray or prophesies. He says this to start his discussion: “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” There is more “For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God.” 

This is considered one of the most difficult passages to translate in all of Scripture because there are so many unknowns (what is this covering business, what is the type of cover because veil is not mentioned in this text, what in the world is a women’s authority especially if she to be under the leader of a man, etc…), and Paul’s argument is so complicated and difficult to understand in our modern context (below is a PDF with a detailed exegesis of the passage). We also do not really know the make up of people that Paul is writing to (Greek, Roman, Hebrew), which is critical to knowing just how “covering the head” would be viewed culturally. Much of that is ancillary to our concern here, but know that this passage is quite complex. The main argument in regards to women in ministry rests primarily in I Corinthians 11:2, 7-9, starting with verse 2: what does Paul mean by “man is the head of  woman” which is bracketed by “Christ is the head of man” and “God is head of Christ.” Paul uses the word “head” (Greek κεφαλή) in both literal and metaphorical senses in this passage, but in verse 2 Paul is obviously using κεφαλή metaphorically.  Now this answer is very easy in English and quite possibly in Hebrew thought: head means leader. However, this is not always (or mostly) true in Greek thought in this time period. It isn’t till much later that the semantic range (what a word can mean) included “leader” or “ruler” as the primary meaning of this word. In Greek, the metaphorical use of this word can mean (or possibly should mean in this time period) “source,” though it has been pointed out in recently scholarship that both meanings can be used faithfully in this text. This is where the uncertainty of knowing who Paul was writing to impacts our understanding of the timeless principle. If Paul is writing to Hebrews, he is more likely establish a creation order argument, if he is writing to Greeks he more likely means source.

If Paul means “source” the argument changes from the idea of creation order, to one of interdependence based on sexual compatibility. I won’t cover the progression here (see the PDF) because its a bit complicated; but there is enough evidence in the exegesis to throw significant doubt on the idea that Paul wants man to consider himself the ruler of woman.

I Timothy 2:11-16

We will deal with this passage more fully when we get to the discussion of women teaching or preaching in the local church, but Paul also appeals to Genesis 2 and 3 when he discusses Adam and Eve to buttress his point about women teaching in Ephesus (where Timothy was). Paul said “For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression.” This again appears to appeal to creation order at the outset of our analysis. The problem is that concluding that without properly understanding the purpose and situation in Ephesus is problematic. Paul stated his purpose in writing this letter to Timothy 1:3-7: he wrote to combat false teaching. It seems that women were the ones spreading the false teaching (4:3, 5:11-15), and that the false teaching was centered around the idea that woman was created first and having children was no longer necessary. Studies of Ephesus push this Gnostic idea pretty close to the time of writing (but not quite to the time of writing), make it a real possibility that Paul wrote this section specifically to address this heresy. In that case, the argument Paul makes is not necessarily arguing for creation order, but for a proper understanding of God’s creation and the necessity of reproduction. Man was created first, woman was created second. Men and women should continue to have children because it is not sinful. Paul uses Eve to illustrate exactly what the Ephesian women are doing – they were deceived and are deceiving others. This idea is how we can make some sense of 2:15 which is quite difficult to understand in context otherwise (no Complementarian believes women are saved by having kids). While this can not be proven (yet – if archeology and cultural study of Ephesus may yet yield this information conclusively), it is a very real possibility that takes into account the cultural, context, and addresses all the context issues the best. It isn’t perfect, but no exegesis of this passage is.


When we originally looked at Genesis 1-3, I said that we couldn’t derive headship from the immediate context and we had to reserve judgement until we looked at some relevant New Testament passages. After looking at these passages I believe that there is no way to conclude with certainty that Paul is interpreting Genesis to impose headship. I also think it is impossible to rule that conclusion out. This means to me that we are left to take headship as a gray area, where there is no biblical mandate requiring us to believe it. My conclusion is that headship is not in line with the idea of Genesis 1:27 – man and woman were made in the image of God, both sexes carry that image. Neither sex is intrinsically superior in leadership (there are great male and female leaders, deal with it), or designed to rule. While earlier cultures have been highly patriarchal, that tradition should not impact our application of God’s Word. One text that is usually used to highlight this truth is Galatians 3:28, Paul tells his readers that there are no longer distinctions between groups (slave/free, Jew/Greek, and man/woman). In context, this discussion about salvation, all people are equal in the site of God at the foot of the cross. It is disingenuous not to apply that same principle of equality in all areas of life if in the most important topic of human experience, we are all the same. If there was clear reasons (and not presuppositions) to see an established rule of men over women, that would be a different story, however; that is not what we have.

This is just one piece of the women in ministry puzzle, and possibly the least important for our systematic theology of the role of women in ministry. While I believe Complementarians have to hold to headship, I do not believe they do so because of the idea of the superiority of men (though I am sure there are misogynists among them). I believe they hold to it because it is the key point that buttresses their conclusion on the next topic we will look at. Without it, the restrictive Complementarian argument has very little support in application.  Next time we are going to examine whether women should be allowed to teach and preach in the local church, and if so, what restrictions should be placed on them.

As always, I am open to questions or further discussions!


Women in Ministry, Part 4 – The Testimony of the Early Church

This is part 4 in a series surveying the role of women in ministry (part 3 here). In case you didn’t know there were many female servants in the early church. Unfortunately, the female servants do not get a whole lot of pub. While most of us probably cannot name all 12 apostles, we can probably struggle through half of them or more if we have been in church for awhile. Comparatively, I am not sure most of us could name more than one or two influential female leaders in the early church (Mary doesn’t count), and many of us maybe shocked that there were any at all.

There is sufficient evidence in the New Testament to show that this new Christian faith was to be an inclusive faith, eschewing arbitrary distinctions like gender and race in a lot of ways. That was later forgotten or obscured by the institutional church that coalesced at Nicea (and after), but the first Christians were not shy about using women to further the mission of God. Before Jesus died, it has been argued by many that the women we see in the Gospels helped “bankroll” his ministry. We do know that these women were loved by Jesus, and ministered to Him.

Let’s skip to the very early church. What kinds of things do we see women doing in the infantile stage of the church? Let’s look first at Priscilla. She and her husband Acquila worked with Paul in several places in the New Testament. What is a bit shocking for the New Testament, is that Priscilla is most frequently mentioned before her husband. This would be very uncommon because usually the more influential person would be mentioned first, and that would always be the husband. In this case, however; Paul frequently placed Priscilla at the beginning of his greeting. What did she do in ministry? Many things, but maybe the most striking was that she (primarily it seems) and her husband helped train one of the most gifted speakers of their time Apollos in the fullness of the Gospel. Not only that, she lived on mission, serving the Lord with Paul and her husband. Paul evidently thought very highly of her and her husband, as they traveled with him, labored with him, and were greeted many times by him. In the early church, women were allowed to communicate the Gospel to all. (As an aside, often people will say that we have no evidence she did this in “church,” but we also do not have evidence to the contrary. It should be be remembered that church was like it is today, see Acts 2:42-47. They met often, and they taught often)

Then we have Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2. We aren’t exactly sure what Phoebe did, or what her role in the church at Cenchrea was. We do know that she was called a διάκονος. This word is the same word translated as deacon. There was no female form of this word till later in the church’s development, so Phoebe is called the same thing as a male deacon would be. What is interesting is that she is also called προστάτις. The root word means one who is set over others or leads others, but it is here in a feminine form because Phoebe was a woman. Many will argue that the change in gender indicates a lesser role for Phoebe than a “real” deacon, but there is really no exegetical reason to conclude that. While it isn’t clear what Phoebe was in charge of, it is clear she held a place of authority. The act of carrying Paul’s letter to Rome was a supremely important task, especially when we consider just how important this letter was to Christian Systematic Theology. It is very likely that letter carriers served as interpreters of the letters they carried. They would be charged with explaining exactly what the author meant to their audience. That would have Phoebe instructing the Roman Christians about Paul’s doctrine (similar to what Pastors due today), including men.

As we read further in Romans 16, we see many women mentioned, but maybe no one more quixotic than Junia in verse 7. For many years a debate has raged as to whether Paul was addressing a man or woman. That is why we see this name translated as Junias in different English translations. After many years of studying the culture and texts, most scholars agree that this was a woman called Junia. Greeting her was nothing surprising, but what Paul said about her was. In the NASB it says that she (and Andronicus) were outstanding among the apostles. There is a bit of controversy here as that phrase could be translated as “known to the apostles.” Neither translation is “better.” If Junia is just known by the Apostles our understanding of women’s roles in the church is not much changed from the traditional understanding. If, however; Junia was an apostle, it radically shifts our understanding of the role of women in the New Testament. As an apostle, she would be elevated to a role of authority we have previously thought was only occupied by men. There would then be no reason to exclude women from any role in the church.

While there is no exegetical reason to conclude that Junia was not an apostle, it is also difficult to conclude that she was on the apostolic level. Unfortunately, there is just no way to know for sure what Paul meant; so while we cannot take a mandate from this verse either way, we must leave open the possibility that she was indeed an apostle.

There are many other women we see doing great things in the New Testament, from Chloe who seems like she hosted a church in her home, to Lydia who was the first convert in Macedonia and may have also had a church in her home, to Timothy’s mother and grandmother. We see that women impacted the Early Church in many ways.

I put this overview before we start examining the specific passages to make sure that we have a level-set on the types of things women did in the very early church. As the church developed and became more sacerdotal (led by priest-types), women were marginalized. This colors how we view the texts we will see later on, so know that God used women greatly to impact the early church. Indeed, because of church culture, we need to be reminded often of how valuable women were in all facets of ministry in the early church. Remember: the New Testament was not written as a handbook on how to do church, but recorded what the people did from which we derive principles. If this was their practice of ministry (women serving in many ways, even authoritatively) we should be careful not to view their practices anachronistically. This allows us to invent our own view of their model to mirror our traditions and prejudices, and then apply a fallacious basis of practice forward to our day. The principle is clear: women were servants, held authoritative positions, and were invaluable to the spread of the Gospel.

In our next post we are going to start addressing in detail the passages that would appear to limit the scope and roles of women in ministry. It’s likely that we will see our presuppositions challenged most in these next few posts. Hang with me, and I pray that what we have done so far has been helpful!

Women in Ministry, Part 3, Creation’s Purpose

This is part 3 of a series discussing the role of women in ministry, and trying to decide what the Bible teaches on this controversial subject. You can find Part 2 here. The first Biblical point I want to address is to answer this question: What was God’s purpose in creation?  Let me begin by stating that I believe God created humanity out of nothing, and that Theistic Evolution is bogus and not a truth taught in the bible. This is important because it means that God created humanity with purpose. Genesis 1:27 is the great statement on God’s design of man and woman: He created man in His image, male and female He created them. This is where God breathed life into humanity and men and women became image bearers. We each carry the Imago Dei, with the capacity for reason, worship, ministry, and fellowship. Now before some of my Complementarian friends say “see He created MAN in His image…” no serious scholar believes that the “man” here is meant to be anything other than a representation of humanity. Hebrew has two words for man אָדָם (‘adam) and אִישׁ (‘iysh), and אָדָם most commonly refers to mankind/humanity. Hence Adam’s name (also אָדָם, but with the הָֽ indicating a specific אָדָם) isn’t just man, but carries with it the idea of him being the beginning of humanity. If you will allow me to paraphrase, verse 27 would say: God created humanity in His image; He created them male and female. Male and female are properties of humans. God included both in this statement to show that all humanity was in his image regardless of gender. As the narrative is recapitulated in Genesis 2, we also see the אָדָם used everywhere we see “man” up until Genesis 2:23 when both man and woman were created.

What is the point of all that information? God was not making אִישׁ (man) better or first as an order of rule. Someone had to be first, and it was Adam. The point of what is being communicated here is that man and woman form a unit. אִישׁ and אִשָּׁה (‘yishah, woman) were inextricably linked together in creation. In fact, the purpose of God in creation of humanity was for us to have fellowship with Him. I believe that is demonstrated in minuscule form in Genesis 3:8 when God comes looking for them and found them hiding in their shame. Their sin broke fellowship and the rest of Scripture is about restoring the relationship between God and humanity (this post contains some of my thoughts about that). The creation account is an account of God making humanity for fellowship, both man and woman. There is absolutely no reason to think these passages teach hierarchy or rule of men over women. God’s purpose in giving us this story was to show us that we need each other equally.

Now let me anticipate some of my Complementarian friends arguments for male headship at this point:

  • Man was created first, he is primarily the representative of God and His ruler of creation: not withstanding our Hebrew lesson above, this objection says that because God created man first, he is automatically the boss. God brought Adam the animals to name. God thought Adam needed a partner. The problem with this argument of creation order is that God saved His most important creation for last (humanity), and with that logic His most important creation would be woman, as she was the last thing created. Creation order will be a big part of the argument for male headship/leadership in the church, so this will be an argument we come back to.
  • Woman is described as a helper, this implies someone who is under another’s rule: First, remember God’s purpose in creating humanity was for fellowship and interdependence, not hierarchy; but more important than that is that Hebrew עֵזֶר (‘ezer) NEVER means or implies inferiority or subservience in the Scripture. It means helper (helper is not an indicator of hierarchy), one who succors (ministers to another, the same could be said of a Pastor), and one who stands in front of. In order to get this text to mean “one who is subordinate to,” we have to bring that conclusion into the text.
  • Jim just read Genesis 3:16! God said man will rule over woman – this is indeed what Genesis 3:16 says, but in context this statement is part of the curse given to humanity when they chose sin. Each part of the curse is something that humanity now has to fight against: bad ground when planting, pain in childbearing, and yes rule of man over woman. Isn’t this what we see as a giant problem in church culture today? Powerful men abusing women in the church? This is not a command but a curse we should fight against.
  • The New Testament tells us that creation order is a thing – as I said above, this is a very real argument that comes from the New Testament. We will be going through these passages later, so I will hold off on the discussion of this item till them.

So what can we conclude? Seeing that fellowship and interdependence of man and woman, and humanity and God are the primary topics; we can conclude that God made man and woman for each other. Without man there is no woman, and without woman there would be no more man (childbirth). We are intricately linked together and cannot be separated into factions. This may not help us to make a conclusion about the ultimate role of women in the church, but it does get us to see that God thinks and purposes about humanity holistically and not necessarily piecemeal. Divisiveness is common in humanity. We like to divide people by gender, age, color, and whatever else we can find. This seems to always be a precursor to sin and discrimination.

The next topic will be to analyze the early church and discover the types of ministry women were doing. This will give us some clues as to what the earliest Christians thought women should be engaged in.

Women in Ministry, Part 2: The Enemies of Understanding

This post is the second in a series evaluating the role of women in ministry (first post). Before we get into understanding and interpreting the relevant passages in relationship to women in ministry, we need to address two big enemies to us having an open mind to this topic, the first being tradition. Tradition can be an enemy to properly understanding what the Bible says because it tells us that the issue has been settled a long time ago. Indeed we may already think we know what the Bible says about the issue, because our church, parents, or leaders have told us what we should believe based on their traditions. Unfortunately, tradition is not necessarily biblically derived, and conclusions can often be based on faulty logic or cultural preferences.  This is why tradition can be difficult to wade through for us seeking to understand the Bible in context.

A second enemy to our study here will be that many of us are not trained in how to properly understand the Bible and apply it in the modern world. I don’t want to alarm anyone but we very rarely do direct application of practice in the New Testament church to ourselves. That is because one of the rules of proper biblical application is to understand what the basis of practice was described as in the New Testament, derive the principles that are present in these practices, and use the principles to guide our modern church practices. A proper analysis of a text has to take into account what the writer of the passage was trying to communicate (and what the people they were writing to understood them to mean), the location and customs of the recipients, the situation of the recipients and purpose of the writing, as well as any difficult to understand terms, and incorporated literary devices (yes, things like sarcasm existed in the Bible and we have to be able to recognize it without a sarcasm font). That may sound complex, but it gets even worse. Generally speaking, we don’t always know the answers to these questions. This is one of the reasons that we have wide varieties of understanding and application of “very clear” biblical texts. We as Biblical exegetes (and if we are to have an opinion on the Bible we better be exegetes) have to carefully study all these factors to engage in a meaningful way with the Biblical text. Misunderstanding context, culture, and meaning have led to more divisions and heresies than any other practice.

Defeating these enemies will not be easy for some. I would like to say that enemy number 2 will be the most difficult one to overcome, but for most of us it will be enemy number 1. I will attempt to walk us through the difficulties of interpretation and various understandings of the Biblical texts after having studied it quite a bit. That does not mean I will not be wrong, but hopefully through the exegesis you will see that and be able to draw your own conclusions. By contrast, I cannot do anything to change your pre-conceived notions about what church should be like, just like you cannot change mine. Tradition will be our biggest challenge as we seek Biblical understanding. For example, if we are not used to seeing women preach and teach, it may strike us very wrong (even if it isn’t); if we are used to it, and we find the Scripture to teach that it is wrong, we may not be willing to accept it. Tradition has consistently been the biggest problem to reforming failing and un-biblical practice in the church.

In our next installment we are going to look at the big picture that God had in creation and try to derive His plan and purpose for it. We will begin to challenge some of the assumptions we have and start laying the groundwork for where we are going to go in the future. With that, let’s get Biblical (sung to the tune of Olivia Newton John)!