Hermeneutics

The Good Samaritan and Exclusion...

In starting this series about a Luke 10 Theology I want to lay out what I understand to be one of the primary theological implications of the second story in this text, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

As a child I was taught that this story had something to do with helping others who were in need. The connections about why the first two people passed by completely escaped me. Later as I grew older I began to learn about the tension between Samaritans and Jews (although it was a sanitized Sunday School version). I certainly never heard about the ways in which they would seek to dishonor and make unclean each other's Temple or about John Hyrcanus who a littl over a hundred years earlier had raised the temple of the Samaritans to the ground. Hatred might not have been too strong a word.

But perhaps a more helpful framework for thinking about the relationship of Jews and Samartians both culturally and in this story comes from Miroslav Volf's award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Explanation of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. (Christianity Today lists this book as one of the 100 most significant books of the last century, and I agree.)

The way in which Volf helps us to think about this story and some of the more profound implications is through his categories of "exclusion". Here is a brief summary of the different ways in which individuals, institutions, and cultures organize and practice "exclusion".

Exclusion as Elimination
This is the kind of exclusion that can only be solidified by a process of extermination. Only in a denial of their humanity and a denial of their right to live can your ideal, agenda, or culture be held up as superior. One could point to the genocide in Rwanda for a horrific example of exclusion as elimination.

Exclusion by Assimilation
This is the more backhanded expression of "exclusion as elimination". This still denies the humanity and culture of the "other" but does not go as far as to take their lives if they "become like us". Interestingly I think there is some important space created by this category for the church to think about issues related to the role of the church and the issue of immigration.

Exclusion as Domination
This form of exclusion seeks to keep people "in their place". It has both obvious expressions (like the Caste system in India or Apartheid in South Africa), and expressions which are much more subtle and socially acceptable (like economic disparity along racial and gender divisions in the US). This form of exclusion functions to help those on "top" either maintain or grow in their position, power, wealth, etc. at the expense of those below. The poor get poorer while the rich get richer.

Exclusion as Abandonment
This is a form of exclusion that is especially prevalent in the way that the First World relates to those in the Third World, and the way that those in suburbs relate to the inner-city communities. (Some might refer to this as "white flight.") Volf summarizes this form of exclusion like this:

Like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, we simply cross to the other side and pass by, miniding our own business (Luke 10:31). If others neither have goods we want nor can perform services we need, we make sure that they are at a safe distance and close ourselves off from them so that their emaciated and tortured bodies can make no inordinate claims on us. (Exclusion and Embrace, 75.)

Exclusion by Language and Cognition (a.k.a. "Symbolic Exclusion")
This form of exclusion seeks to seperate from a person, group, or institution through disparaging language and thought that dehumanizes or demoralizes the "other". This form of exclusion is so prevalent that it is difficult to describe the breadth of this practice of exclusion. Here are a couple of examples ranging in "severity":

  • The Jews are an inferior race who threaten the creation of a pure race in Nazi Germany. (The list of names, terms, and propoganda used to demonize and dehumanize the Jews in this situation is both too long and too offensive to list here.)
  • To the girl who dresses more immodestly or provocatively than we deem appropriate (a highly subjective criteria by the way!) we might use terms such as "slutty" or speak in such a way to give the impression that this individual must be sexually active and promiscuous.
  • To people who have different political frameworks we use different oppositional terms (defining ourselves against someone/something else). There are too many here to name like "liberal", "God-hater", "fundamentalist", etc.
  • To those who are theologically "other" we use a whole host of disparaging terms that malign both their understandings of Scripture (they are "ignorant", "rebellious", "brainwashed") or their character ("they don't respect the authority of God's Word", etc.). This is common even though it is something that the Bible explicitly forbids.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6, NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV)

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:10-12, NIV)

"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21, NIV)

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. ...  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 5:21-22; 7:1-5, NIV)

We have heard from Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jesus.

CAN WE ALL AGREE THAT THIS IS A UNIVERSAL PROHIBITION?????

Volf concludes this section by speaking about a more sinister (and for our purposes more important) category for exclusion: Indifference.

Strangely enough, the havoc wreaked by indifference may even be greater than that brought by felt, lived, practiced hatred. ... Especially within a large-scale setting, where the other lives at a distance, indifference can be sustained over time, especially in contemporary societies. A "system"--a political, economic, or cultural [or religious!] system-- insinuates itself between myself and the other. If the other is excluded, it is the system that is doing the excluding, a system in which I participate because I must survive and against which I do not rebel because it cannot be changed. I turn my eyes away... I go about my own business. Numbed by the apparent ineluctability of exclusion taking place outside of my will though with my collaboration, I start to view horror and my implication in it as normalcy. I reason: the road from Jerusalem to Jericho will always be littered by people beaten and left half-dead; I can pass--I must pass--by each without much concern. The indifference that made the prophecy, takes care also of the fulfillment. ... We exclude also because we are uncomfortable with anything that blurs accepted boundaries, disturbs our identities, and disarranges our symbolic cultural maps. (Exclusion and Embrace, 77, 78)

So what does this have to do with Luke 10 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

What I want to unpack in my next post is how this framework of "exclusion" helps us to understand the ways in which we have wrongly practiced various forms of "exclusion" in relationship to people who are theologically "other" both throughout church history (think of the Inquisition) and in our present experience (the polarizing of Churches of Christ in relation to other Christian traditions).

So I leave you with a couple of questions to consider before I take this deeper with the next post:

(1) What forms of "exclusion" have you seen or experienced in relationship to someone who is theologically "other" (a.k.a. "different") than you?

(2) How might Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan give us a framework for re-envisioning this relationship?
This story is after all about what it means to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27-29)!

(3) At what point does someone become "theologically other"?
(This I think is the most profound and shaping question for this entire discussion, and the very question which this parable helps us to get a more theologically robust answer for.)

Book Review: How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

 

Note: I did receive a free copy of this book from Zondervan for this review. I am thankful for this opportunity.

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens by Michael Williams is the latest in the "How to Read the Bible" series from Zondervan.

A couple excerpts from the introduction lay out plainly what Williams is attempting to accomplish in this tight reference work.

The simple truth is that all of the Scriptures--Old Testament and New Testament--testify about Jesus seems to be often overlooked. ... Reading the Bible through the Jesus lens is reading it the way it was intended. It keeps our reading, understanding, teaching, and preaching properly focused on God's grand redemptive program that centers on his own Son. Seeing how each biblical book makes its own unique contribution to that redemptive focus enables us to use these diverse materials with much more confidence and accuracy.

What this little book (less than 280 pages!) seeks to do then is give a brief overview of each book of the Bible and proceed through a five-step process.

  1. An overview of the book including a short statement about the overarching theme.
  2. A Memory Passage
  3. The Jesus Lens
  4. Contemporary Applications
  5. Hook Questions

In this brief exploration of each biblical book, Williams will examine the highlights that are especially pertinent for making the ultimate connection to Jesus. Obviously, for some biblical books (e.g., Ephesians) this is a much easier task. For others (e.g., Nahum) this is a little more difficult.

First I want to review his exploration of two books of the Bible (Nahum and Ephesians) and then give some final thoughts about the place of this book in our study, interpretation, and teaching/preaching of Scripture.

READING NAHUM THROUGH THE JESUS LENS

Now the book of Nahum is a prophetic "book" or oracle by the prophet Nahum against Nineveh.

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. (Nahum 1:1, NRSV)

Williams begins by contrasting the repentance of Nineveh in the story of the prophet Jonah with the contemporary situation in which God has had enough and will now punish them. The theme of the book of Nahum is summarized as follows:

The Lord is sovereign over all and will judge Nineveh.

Fair enough. The memory passage is Nahum 1:7-8:

The Lord is good,
   a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
   but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh.

Williams then moves into the "Jesus Lens" portion of the book. Here is where I struggle to connect the book of Nahum with his interpretive move. The prophecy against Nineveh is reinterpreted as an eschatological rescuing that God will do for us (through Jesus) at the end of history.

Like the people of God in Nahum's day, we can look forward to comfort and relief from those who trouble us, because God "will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled. ... This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7). Jesus is the one who will judge between those who are his people and those who are against his people. (pg. 139)

The contemporary application summarizes this book as a reminder that we have been set free from the destructive judgment of God and that we should therefore have an urgency about telling others how they too can be reconciled to God and escape judgment.

The Hook Questions end with asking questions about God's judgment and determining who is in charge of our lives. Good questions to ask for sure. But can we get these out of Nahum?

Summary: While the introduction to the book of Nahum is helpful, and the text for memorization is important both for our formation and our understanding of the book itself, the "Jesus lens" seems like a big stretch. It's like those times you heard a sermon that started out, "The Bible says, 'He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.' And speaking of rain and water this brings me to my subject of baptism." The observations that Williams makes about God's judgment of those who are rebellious and his salvation for those who trust in him are not wrong, they just don't really come from Nahum without some significant hoops to jump through.

READING EPHESIANS THROUGH THE JESUS LENS

The book of Ephesians, written by Paul (questions of authorship are not raised here), to the church in Ephesus is one of the most theologically dense of Paul's writings. A tall order for four pages!! In a brief overview of who the recipients were and a discussion of the brokenness that comes from sin, Williams summarizes the theme of Ephesians as follows:

God establishes the church as the firstfruits of his shalom.

This is true. (One might question, as I do, if this however is the main theme of the book of Ephesians.) Williams uses this theme to tie together the recurring themes of unity (in contrast to the brokenness of sin) that flow throughout Ephesians.

The memory passage is Ephesians 2:17:

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

In the next step, the "Jesus Lens," Williams makes the point that Jesus is the one who brings this shalom back into our lives that was taken from us in our sin. He alone is the one who could heal the rift between ourselves and God, and that when this rift is healed we are then able to close the gap between ourselves and others as well.

The contemporary application revovles around the unity of the church and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for such a life of unity both with God and with one another. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2-3)

The "Hook Questions" are intriguing:

  • Do you know peace in your life? Why should there be any brokenness at all?
  • Do others see peace in your life? How would they be able to see it? What have you done to promote the gospel of peace?
  • Where do you look for peace? What is the difference between what unbelievers call "peace" and what you call "peace"? Could you explain the difference to an unbeliever. Have you?

SUMMARY: There are some good things here. Is the theme of "peace" important in Ephesians. Absolutely. But again, it seems that this simply makes the most logical jumping off point for a people-centric reading of Ephesians. What does peace mean to you? How do you live out peace? If we read Ephesians carefully, I think we will see a much more God-centered framework for understanding how peace works in the community. In this section I struggle to see how the contemporary application and hook questions connect with the overarching narrative found in Ephesians.

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FINAL WORD ON "HOW TO READ THE BIBLE THROUGH THE JESUS LENS"

Ultimately, I think this will be a good starting place for those who want to get some clues as to how we can be informed about the connection points between Jesus Christ and the breadth of Scripture. Is this a perpetual challenge for the church? Yes. Is this why we often neglect especially the Old Testament? Sure it is. But a couple words of caution for those who will employ this resource (and for "hunting for Jesus" anywhere in Scripure, especially in the Old Testament):

I disagree with Williams overall premise that "all of the Scriptures--Old Testament and New Testament--testify about Jesus" (pg. 9)

I would be curious to see the "Jesus lens" of the laws about sexual relations in Leviticus 18, or David's "collection" of one hundred Philistine foreskins (yikes!) in 1 Samuel 18, or the lists of greetings that conclude many of the Epistles "testify about Jesus". In other words, the burden of such all-inclusive langugage only causes us to jump through hoops that simply aren't there.

There is a danger in "jumping" to the "Jesus lens" especially in the Old Testament.

It is a serious danger that we jump too quickly to Jesus in our understanding of Scripture, especially in passages that are either (1) in the Old Testament or (2) that are difficult to grasp or explain. We can be tempted to "rescue" God's reputation.

We look at the Canaanite genocide where God commands Israel to kill everyone (and I mean everyone) in those cities. We then hurry to the "Jesus lens" and say something like, "Because of Jesus no one has to die anymore." This doesn't mean that it is wrong, but we have not stopped to hear Scripture, to wrestle with what that text (hard to swallow as it may be) tells us about God or about God's people or about us. We have spared ourselves that difficult and sometimes unsettling work.

If this is the extent of your study of any particular book in the Bible you are on shaky ground.

I don't think by any means this is the intention of the book. He even tells in the introduction that a more detailed class taught at a seminary will be soon available that goes through much in the same way that the book does. But my point is this: This might be a good tool, but it is A tool.

Ultimately, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens will be a nice addition to your library for study and preaching/teaching if:

(1) You recognize it is a place to stimulate your thinking.
(2) You spend time in the actual text itself and its meaning and implications BEFORE you "use the Jesus lens."

GOD GIVE US MERCY TO READ YOUR WORD WITH EARS TO HEAR, EYES TO SEE, AND A WILLING AND RECEPTIVE HEART.

Spiritual (Re)Formation Reboot...

Is anyone out there?

Have I really been gone from here since August? Wow. A lot has happened since my last post, and it is clear that it is time for a fresh start. So here we go.

I hope you will join me as I "start fresh" here at Spiritual (Re)Formation. A new look, hopefully some new topics, and a much greater consistency in writing will mark this new season here.

Let me give you a preview of some of the things that will be appearing here in the near future...

I have recently resurrected a series at the Central Church of Christ where I teach/preach where I am answering questions that are submitted to me from the members of my congregation.

Many of those questions I will soon be sharing here on Spiritual (Re)Formation. Some of those questions include the following:

  • Is instrumental music a salvation issue?
  • Why did Jesus cry out from the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?"
  • When does seeking to be obedient become legalism?
  • How should we use church history to shape our theology and practice?
  • Who served as deacons in the first century church?
  • What should be the relationship of the church and the state?
  • How should we interact with (or pull away from) people with whom we disagree about theological matters?

These and other questions will arise as time goes on. Also, feel free to submit any questions you might have by sending me an email.

We will also be talking about issues of church and culture. What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? How are we to react to and engage with the culure(s) in which we live?

Maybe more specifically, how does a movement that has been preoccupied with the "first century church" maintain a faithful and culturally appropriate posture in the places in which we find ourselves?

This obviously brings in larger issues about definitions of culture, what we mean by "church" and some of the ways that we read, interpret, and use Scripture to define both belief and practice. In time, we will lay some of this groundwork and see where it takes us from there.

I also hope to begin some sporadic posts about our history, traditions, and some of the major shifts that have taken place in our heritage (both good and bad). The goal here is to better understand our roots and the places that we have "gone off into the weeds" as some like to say.

My hunch is that many of us don't know the richness and depth of our heritage. While it can be easy to be negative and cynical about our tradition (this is from the voice of experience!), I believe that there are powerful things from our own history that can and should be reclaimed in the present.

Finally, I hope to raise some questions (and propose some options) in the realm of hermeneutics or biblical interpretation. The way in which we read Scripture dictates much of what we understand (or miss). Understanding the ways we have been influenced by forces and ideas that we have never formally been taught is important. Here we will be listening to voices both old and new, both local and around the world. Reading Scripture is both a wonderful privilege (that many in history have not had!) and a deep responsibility and challenge.

We will look at some of the ways that the people in Scripture have interpreted and used Scripture, we will explore some passages that seem to reveal some tension both in perspective and understanding, and we will also talk about ways that are dangerous to our engagement with Scripture.

Overall, I think that the future is bright here at Spiritual (Re)Formation. I believe that the Spirit of God is moving in powerful and sometimes shocking ways in the church today to make us more into the image of His Son in the world. The most important part of this journey here however will be your participation. So stop back often, comment when you can, and most of all pray that each of us will be continually (re)formed into the image of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Universal Command or Cultural Response?

We have come a long way in this series as we have explored the sometimes contentious passage about women being silent found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. 

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

If you have missed any of the previous posts in the series I would suggest you go back and read them (in order):

New Series: 1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women...

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Textual Challenges

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Who are these Women??

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Cultural and Historical Background...

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: "Silence", "Submission", and "Disgraceful"...

And now we come to the question that has required all of the previous effort:

Is Paul here commanding something that is universal (for all people, time, and cultures without exception) or something that is specific and cultural (e.g. the situation in Corinth)?

First, the text in question with a larger portion of context (both before and after)...

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

 34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

 39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Corinthians 14:26-40, NIV)

In interpreting this passage we have drawn the following conclusions...

  • The universal qualifier ("...as in all the congregations of the Lord's people.") belongs to the previous unit of thought contained in 14:29-33.
  • This unit of thought (14:34-35) is original to the text and is found in the correct placement in the text.
  • The "women" that Paul addresses can only be one demographic of the women in the church at Corinth. They must be married women with believing husbands. No other segment of the congregation is able to fulfill Paul's commands to "ask their husbands at home" and expect to be able to receive an answer that will help them learn.
  • The particular problem that Paul is addressing is that these married women with believing spouses are asking questions in the public assembly. These women are not asserting leadership, they are attempting to learn. 
  • Such an action is culturally unacceptable, and therefore Paul works a solution for everyone. These women should stop asking questions in the assembly and ask their husbands in a setting (at home) that is not inflammatory to the life of the congregation.  
  • This arrangement is one that is for the benefit of everyone involved. These women still have their questions answered and the "heartburn" that it is causing in the congregation has been dealt with. 

So does this help us to understand whether or not Paul was offering a universal command (or as I like to call it, "for everyone, everywhere, forever without exception, amen.") or was he addressing and specific situation that he never intended to "bind" on all women and all congregations?

It seems that the only answer, considering the things that we have looked at in this series, is that Paul is giving a command to a specific group of people (married women with believing husbands) about a specific situation (the conflict that it was causing in Corinth). 

IMPLICATIONS

Some people (and you will know if I am talking about you) are reading this and their blood pressure has just shot up to a level that is dangerous for their health. The questions are rolling, "So is he saying..."

So before you go there, let me tell you what I think the implications of this interpretation of this passage are...

(1) This passage does not command all women for all time to be silent in the public worship of the church.

(2) This passage gives a great window into what it means to live and worship in a community of people where there are inherent tensions between the freedom found in the Gospel and the expectations of the surrounding culture. 

(3) This passage has nothing to do with the leading (or prohibition of leading) of women in the church. It has everything to do with how these women were learning, it does not address in any way, shape, or form any form of leadership or teaching. 

CONCLUSION

It seems to me that this passage is a fine example (if not the loudest one) of taking a small passage dealing with something that is important (but not all important) and making it way too important! I wonder if Paul were to read some of the things written about and preached about this passage and what his reaction would be. It seems to me that he would be surprised at the volume and the venom that has surrounded this short passage (only 35 words in Greek). 

We need to be careful when we "use" Scripture to shore up a position or practice in the life of our congregations. This text is a perfect example. And it should cause us to be more cautious, more honest, and more humble of the way that we stack up Scripture for any reason (no matter the motive). This is God's Word and it deserves our utmost care, humility, and effort. 

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Who are these women??

Now we come to the first of the important interpretive questions regarding this passage: Just who exactly is Paul talking about?

This question, as we will see, has a lot to do with how we understand the overall message of this passage. So we must start here. But first there are a couple of issues that we must get on the table.

(1) Translation issues...
The first translation issue is in regard to the word "woman" in this passage. Both times it is the Greek word gune (γυνη) which can be translated as "woman" or "wife". The only key to which translation is intended is the immediate context.

So what should the translation be here in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35? Let's look to the passage itself to discern whether we should understand this as "woman" (everyone that is a female) or "wife" (which is a subsection of both women and as we will see of the congregation in Corinth).

     34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

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(TANGENT: ENGLISH BIBLES AND HISTORY OF TRANSLATION ISSUES)
This is something that is rarely (if ever) discussed when we talk about the challenges of translation of interpretation when we aren't dealing directly with the original languages of Scripture.

There are two things that are considered in translation of the Bible (at least in English) and that is (1) the understanding of the original language text(s) and (2) the history of translation. If you take a look through all of the English versions available for example at Biblegateway.com of this passage you will find that only The Message translates this term as "wives".

(Similar issues...and this is a whole post in itself...can be traced to the translation/transliteration of the word "baptism". It was in this move (one which all English translations that I am aware of have maintained actually obscures the idea of immersion which was the original intent/meaning of the term.)

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(2) Contextual issues...
So how does this text itself help us to determine whether we should understand this passage to apply to "woman" (all women) or "wives" (some women)? The passage itself gives us the only clue we really need.

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV, emphasis mine)

Also, we learn earlier in 1 Corinthians 7 that there are other groups of women in the church at Corinth who do not fit this demographic. There are women who have never been married (7:27-28), women who are divorced (7:11, 15-16), women who are engaged to be married (7:36), women who have been widowed (7:8-9), and women who are currently married (7:2-5; 14:33-35).

Of all these various groups of women in the church at Corinth only one of them is able to keep this imperative (and it is a command) of Paul: the women who are currently married.

But I want to suggest that here Paul actually goes one step further in singling out (pardon the pun) this group of women in the Corinthian church. I want to suggest that the best way to make sense of this text is to understand that Paul is actually speaking about women who are currently married AND have believing husbands. This seems to me to be the only way that this instruction makes any sense.

SUMMARY

In the church in Corinth there are women at every stage of life, especially in relationship to marriage. There are women never married, currently married, formerly married, soon to be married, and those who are widowed. It also likely there were some women at each of these stages who did not have believing partners (whether husband, ex-husband, future husband, etc.)

The only way to make sense of this passage as it stands is that this is an imperative (a.k.a. command) of Paul for currently married women who have believing husbands. Any other way of reading this text (e.g. making it a universal command for all times and places for all people of the female gender) doesn't pay enough attention both to the context and to the actual text itself. 

 

IS THIS HOW YOU UNDERSTOOD THIS PASSAGE IN YOUR CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE? IF NOT, HOW DID YOU UNDERSTAND THIS PASSAGE BEFORE?

 

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Textual Challenges...

(Some of these challenges were brought up by Robbie in the comments section on the previous post. I was already in the process of dealing with this information, but am thankful that he brought it up.)

One of the reasons that this passage (among others dealing with the issue of "women's roles") are often left alone is because there are some complex textual issues that surround the texts themselves.

Here we are talking about issues concerning translation, meaning, context, and paragraph endings/beginnings. A quick survey of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and its immediate context in various translations should highlight a couple of the more important textual challenges that we face.

 

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

     34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)
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 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.   

    As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (ESV)

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33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

   34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

      35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (KJV)

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32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.
     (As in all the churches of the saints,
34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) (NRSV)

DID YOU NOTICE ANY SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES IN THESE TRANSLATIONS?

There are two textual challenges associated with this text that must be dealt with before we attempt the task of interpretation...

(1) Translators aren't sure where to put "as in all the churches of the saints".
You see for example in the NIV and KJV that this phrase belongs with the previous paragraph about God not being about disorder but of peace. The ESV puts this phrase with the discussion of women in 14:34-35. The NRSV does something similar but makes the entire discussion of women in chapter 14 parenthetical.

Part of the challenge comes from the fact that early manuscripts were written in either all capital letters (called Uncials) or all lower case letters (called Miniscules) and lacked three very important things that you and I take for granted: spaces between words, punctuation, and paragraphs.

This means that in some places (this being one of them) it can be complicated to discern the unit of thought and proper translation of the text, especially when it comes to where sentences begin and end.

(2) Scholars debate the originality and placement of this unit of thought.
Some scholars (most notably Gordon Fee in his influential commentary) see this entire unit as an interpolation (inserted by another author, editor, copyist) and therefore the text should be discarded as a whole. Others think that this passage should be placed at the end of the chapter after 14:40. Still other scholars think that the text should be understood as it is and in the place in which it is translated in our English Bibles.

SO HOW DO WE RESOLVE THESE TWO TEXTUAL ISSUES?

(1) The placement of "as in all the churches of the saints..."
There are two things that will help us understand better the placement of this phrase. It is my contention that this phrase more appropriately belongs with the preceeding paragraph (as is seen in the NIV and KJV). The first thing we can look at is how Paul uses a similar statement elsewhere in 1 Corinthians.

"...He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with with what I teach everywhere in every church." (1 Corinthians 4:17)

"Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches." (1 Corinthians 7:17)

"If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice - neither do the churches of God." (1 Corinthians 11:16)

Paul's pattern (and note that all of these examples are in the same letter) is that such a "universal" statement always concludes a thought or element of an argument. Paul does not use such clauses as a foundational stating point for his argument.

The second thing to be considered is how poorly the grammar of the passage would be if this disputed phrase were to be attached to the discussion of the silence of these women in the church at Corinth.

"As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches." (ESV)

"As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches." (NRSV)

For Paul, who writes with some of the greatest rhetorical flourish in 1st century literature, and especially within the New Testament, such a sloppy expression seems unlikely. Therefore, I believe that we are better off to understand the "universal statement" of "as in all the churches of the saints..." as belonging to the preceding unit of thought about God being one who is concerned with and by his very nature is a God of peace and not disorder.

(2) The originality and placement of 14:34-35.
Both the interpolation (inauthentic insertion after the original) and the rearrangement (putting it after 14:40) have been soundly refuted in the influential scholarly article by Curt Niccum, professor of New Testament at ACU entitled "The Voice of the Manuscripts on the Silence of Women: The External Evidence for 1 Cor. 14:34-35" (New Testament Studies, vol. 43, no. 2, April 1997, 242-255.) The internal textual flow and external manuscript evidence support show that this text is in its proper place and contains Paul's original instructions regarding the situation.

SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US AS WE BEGIN INTERPRETING THIS PASSAGE?

This passage should be understood as a digression (Paul saying, "And while I'm talking about this...") in the larger context of Paul dictating to the Corinthians the proper actions regarding speech in the corporate gathering of the assembly (what we might call Sunday morning). This context is most pressing in chapter 14 but extends also as far back as chapter 11.

We are therefore in the best position (I believe) both textually and contextually to interpret this passage when we begin with it as our starting point in the translation of the 2011 NIV as follows:

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

     34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

NOW THE DIFFICULT QUESTIONS BEGIN...

How Not-to-Read the Bible...

As a minister, graduate student, and learner of Restoration Movement history I have become increasingly aggrivated by and sensitive to a couple of very important dangers:

(1) The Power/Danger of Assumptions

When someone has already figured out the "right answer" to an issue or subject to the exclusion of a careful reading of the biblical text.

When people don't realize (or don't care) that their assumptions on other texts almost "demand" a particular interpretation of other texts and issues.

When people assume that they have already "studied that" (which can range from in-depth study, to what they learned from someone else, to "what makes sense" to them) and therefore it doesn't need to be discussed again.

(2) The Power/Danger of Language

Here are just a few of the phrases, questions, and statements that set my blood immediately to boil:

"The Bible clearly teaches..." (Somehow, this is only employed when the text under discussion has a significant amount of disagreement surrounding it.)

"Why can't we just believe what the Bible says?"

"Any reasonable person..."

"I thought we solved that (insert time period here)..."

"Well, that's just your interpretation..." (This one only shows up when your interpretation goes against my interpretation.)

"Why are we even talking about this?" (This one I find to be dangerous because it is dismissive and reflects an unwillingness to engage in conversation at all.)

(3) The Power/Danger of Not Reading the Biblical Text Closely

I am not suggesting that everyone break out their critical Greek and Hebrew texts with the full apparatus and we start discussing textual variants and the history of interpretation starting with Augustine and John Chrysostom. (Although admittedly, for some of us, this would be enjoyable.) But what I am suggesting is that we have to read the biblical text that is in our laps with care and seriousness.

A number of textual, hermeneutical, and theological issues can be resolved by applying this one principal. Read closely, be honest.

I am thankful to be from a religious tradition that takes Scripture seriously. I am thankful that in our past we have a strong legacy of ministry and scholarship in conversation with one another. I am thankful that we are returning to this part of our legacy that for a time we left behind.

We owe it to our children to be honest in the way that we read and approach Scripture. We owe it to each other to be open and honest with Scripture. More importantly, it is God and his mission that deserve our careful and honest reading of Scripture. Otherwise we find ourselves in danger of distorting the image of God both in our own lives and in our participation in his mission.

What to do with the Old Testament...

Tim Spivey had an interesting post the other day called What Good is the Old Testament? His primary question was simple: How do you view the Old Testament?

The question that I want to tackle (very briefly and somewhat tenatively) is a hunch that I have on how we might honor the Old Testament as Scripture and yet avoid some of the problems that have been created and experienced by other types of interpretation. Ultimately, this is a very sensitive theologial and hermeneutical issue for many of us in Churches of Christ.

My working hunch is this: What if instead of doing a hermeneutical dance with the Old Testament (keep the moral law, discard the ceremonial law), or just functionally throwing it away altogether (yeah, that's the OLD Testament), what if we were to read the Old Testament as Narrative.

Allow me to explain. I'm not saying that we only pay attention to the stories. (You know, ignore Leviticus altogether and focus on bears mauling kids and hills of foreskins.) I'm saying that we look at the Old Testament to discern what God is doing and what we can learn about God and His mission in the world. So for example, instead of simply reading the story of Hannah as a nice story about God giving a barren woman a baby who just happened to be Samuel we would read it as a narrative about the character and mission of God. In doing so, we would come to recognize that this story is not so much about a desperate, barren woman (although it certainly is about that), but more than that it is about a God who is sovereign over what seems irreversible. It tells us about a God who is at work in the world to turn the structures of the powers and principalities on their heads. It is about a God who raises up his "anointed" to put things back to the way they were always intended to be. So instead of this being a nice lesson about praying with emotion and sincerity without a mediator (although that is certainly here) we instead learn something about the nature and mission of God which transcends which part of the book it is from. 

The same might be for the ceremonial law. What can we learn from rules and regulations about menstrual cycles, mold in the house, and dietary restrictions? We learn about a God who is serious about the implications of living together as God's representatives in the world. We learn that there is no area in life from which God and the reality of being his people is removed. We learn that the way we set ourselves apart from the culture in which we live, for their sake, is important to God and therefore important to us.

What do we do with the Old Testament? Maybe instead of looking for things that do or do not apply we need to understand that it is the story of God and of his people. Therefore, it is OUR story as well.