Buried Talents: Hermeneutics and Such, Part 2

While I would not wish to burden the reader with an essay on hermeneutics, we should pause briefly to reflect on just how we test one competing interpretation of scripture against another.

We have already stated the first rule of interpretation — know your own biases and avoid interpreting to satisfy them. It is far too easy to find a shallow, too-convenient argument that just happens to support what you want to believe and then persuade yourself that the argument is God’s own truth.

Second, we must not take the most difficult passages, impose our preferred views on them, and then use our human conclusions to reinterpret (or just ignore) the plainer passages that don’t suit our prejudices. For a seeker of the truth, the path is clear: start with the basics, meaning what the Bible says are the basics. And then work toward the more ambiguous passages.

It is easy to unconsciously reason in circles. For example, suppose that we read 1 Timothy 2:11-15 with our traditional church biases in mind to conclude that women cannot have authority over men. This passage bases its teachings on Genesis 2. We then turn to Genesis 2 and interpret it to say that women cannot have authority over men — basing our interpretation on 1 Timothy 2:11-15. We then turn back to 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and argue that our interpretation must be right because it is supported by our interpretation of Genesis 2!

To avoid this, we must first look at the scripture that is not so difficult. Does the Bible support our position from unambiguous passages interpreted without benefit of the difficult passages? Or do the unambiguous passages actually contradict our proposed interpretation of the difficult passages? If so, to avoid reasoning in a circle, we must discipline ourselves to reject the proposed interpretation and to accept an interpretation that is consistent with the rest of the Bible.

Third, and most importantly, the “basics” are not just the plainer passages. Rather, we must begin with the first principles, that is, what the Bible says are the first principles. Anything that contradicts the New Testament’s teachings on salvation by grace is false doctrine, no matter how appealing the arguments may be. Any interpretation that contradicts the New Testament’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit and His working within each Christian is a lie. Of course, there is much more.

And yet we immediately see one of the biggest problems facing the Churches of Christ today. We don’t even agree on the principles that form the basis of all New Testament doctrine. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in nearly every opening of the New Testament from John through Jude (and in the other books, but just not as often), and yet we are still debating whether the Holy Spirit has done anything since AD 100!

If we can’t agree on what all the verses dealing with the Spirit mean, how can we hope to reach agreement on the other verses? They cannot be interpreted independently of an understanding of how God works in our lives as Christians today!

And for that matter, we still struggle with the nature and scope of grace. Grace permeates every Christian doctrine. In fact, everything we are told in the New Testament is a logical corollary of a sound understanding of grace and the workings of the Spirit. And yet we still find our brothers bickering over whether Christians are saved by faith or works.

Until we reach a common understanding of how we’re saved, why we’re saved, and even whether we’re saved, we are in no position to discuss much of anything intelligently — or more importantly — spiritually. To speak plainly, discussing any difficult issue, such as the role of women, with someone who deeply misunderstands the workings of the Holy Spirit or the power of God’s grace is like trying to explain space travel or the theory of gravity to someone who believes in a flat Earth. You simply do not have enough of a common understanding of the nature of things to converse on the subject.

I do not mean that you and I must agree on every nuance of theology to be able to talk about women and the Church. Far from it. But the answers to the hardest questions, such as those regarding women, ultimately are found in a deep, rich awareness of our relationship with God and what He has done and is doing for us.

The failure of the Churches of Christ to reach a consensus on these elements has quite naturally resulted in disputes in many other areas. But studying the role of women, and even reaching an agreement on the subject, if that were possible, would only be treating a symptom and not the cause of the problem. When we are all more spiritually minded, many things that seem very hard today will appear trivially easy, and much of what seems easy will prove to be very hard indeed.

I will make many arguments that draw support from my understanding of grace and the Holy Spirit, and these arguments will appear senseless to those who see things fundamentally differently. But here is where the test of truth is found: is my position grace-filled and Spirit-filled? or is my position law-filled?

(2 Cor 3:6) He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Finally, we will often be forced to decide whether a command is binding today or was imposed due to temporary circumstances that no longer apply. Some will feel very uncomfortable with such considerations and will even wonder whether such an approach is “liberal.” But such questions are far from liberal. In fact, we have traditionally taught that very many commands no longer apply.

For example, we don’t greet one another with the Holy Kiss, despite the New Testament’s repeated commands to do so (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; I Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). We correctly reason that people always greeted one another with a kiss in the First Century (much as Arabs and Southern Europeans do today). Therefore, we conclude that the choice of greeting — kissing — is a feature of the local culture, rather than an eternal command.

We determine whether kissing is to be an eternal ordinance for the church by looking not just at the command itself, but also at the reason behind the command. Clearly, there is good reason to urge a warm greeting among brothers and sisters (“Love one another.”) Is there a good reason to make kissing the forever-form of the greeting?

Finding none, we conclude that the command to greet warmly is to last for the life of the church, whereas the means of greeting depends on the local and temporary culture. Thus, we “culturally limit” the command, and this is sound Bible scholarship.

So even “direct commands” do not always bind Christians today. We must always look at the reason behind the command and ask whether the reason is eternal and whether the way that the command is to be honored is also eternal. The command to greet one another warmly is eternal. The means of so doing was temporary.

We feel very comfortable with this approach in areas that preserve our traditions. But we feel uncertain, even unsafe, when this approach is applied to challenge our traditions. But the principle is sound and the Churches of Christ have followed this principle since our beginnings.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Buried Talents: Hermeneutics and Such, Part 2

  1. Alan says:

    Is the holy kiss mandated?

    The imperative mood in Greek can be a mandate, or an exhortation, or an entreaty. The only way to distinguish among the three is from the context. Where the context explicitly says it is a command, that is unambiguous. Where it does not, there might be a difference of opinion. In the cases of the holy kiss, I do not get the impression that Paul was issuing a mandate. To me, these passages are more along the line of "Rejoice in the Lord always!" That comes across to me more as an invitation than a mandate. ("Rejoice, or face the consequences!" just doesn't make sense.)

    So maybe, if the "holy kiss" passages are entreaties, we have enough elbow room to exercise judgment and common sense. Maybe we are free to accomplish the intent behind the entreaty by other means.

    That is in contrast to passages like 1 Cor 14:34, which is emphasized a couple of verses later with "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command."

  2. Nick Gill says:

    I believe that 1 Cor 14:37 reinforces v.36, which begins with a word that in most contexts, suggests a negative view of what comes before it.

    What comes before it? vv. 34-35.

    What comes before them? This odd statement in v.31 – "You may ALL prophesy one by one." Paul could just as easily have written 'aner' there instead of 'pas' but he didn't. He wrote 'pas' and we have to deal with how 14:31 agrees with 11:1-16.

    I find it important also that nowhere in the Law of Moses are women commanded to be silent. Now, in the Talmud? It is all over the place. Disgusting and insulting references to women.

    1) A woman's voice is prohibited because it is sexually provocative. (Talmud, Berachot 24a)
    2) It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men. (Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin)
    3) The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness. (Talmud, Berachot Kiddushin)

    Some scholars believe that in vv34-35 Paul is quoting the Corinthian correspondence. I'm not sold on it yet, but it does deal with the apparent internal contradiction (11:3 and 14:31 vs. 14:34&35) concerning women in the church in Corinth.

    I don't see how one can promote the veil in the modern assembly and also silence women in the modern assembly. There is not a single NT word about SILENT women needing to be veiled. Only "praying" and "prophesying" women are commanded to be veiled.

  3. Nick Gill says:

    I found this summary of Talmudic sayings at http://www.ptmin.org/role.htm

    Women are sexually seductive, mentally inferior, socially embarrassing, and spiritually separated from the law of Moses; therefore, let them be silent.

    (Summary of Talmudic sayings)

  4. Alan says:

    Nick,

    Those are indeed deplorable points of view about women in the Talmud. But the reasons Paul cites are nothing like those. The fact that we reject the reasons given in the Talmud does not in any way cast doubt upon the reasons Paul cited.

    Do you think the reasons Paul cited were sufficient in his day? Did he actually state his *real* reasons? If not, we have a problem with inspiration. But if so, then we have to face the question about whether those questions are still sufficient — and if not, why not.

    I deal with the "contradiction" between 1 Cor 11:5 and 1 Cor 14:34 differently. There is only a contradiction between the two passages if you assume that 1 Cor 11:5 is talking about the assembly of the whole church . I see nothing in the passage requiring that interpretation. And I think 1 Cor 11:17-18 shows that what came before was *not* addressing the assembly. So I see no apparent contradiction.

    Of course, Gordon Fee chose to exclude 1 Cor 14:34 as not inspired. That's an example of a true scholar taking another approach — but certainly not one I'd be willing to take.

  5. Nick Gill says:

    I respect Dr. Fee a great deal, but like you, I cannot take the step of suggesting that 1 Cor 14:34-35 are uninspired. I understand his dilemma and his frustration. When dealing with difficulties with textual variants, I concur with the view that suggests that the more improbable variant is probably correct. What I mean is, if something looks out of place, it probably ISN'T. Given our human tendency to harmonize, I think it is much more likely for an overzealous scribe to try and polish away or explain a difficult passage than to insert something challenging.

    I think that works with VARIANTS, but not with difficult passages, and while the PLACEMENT of 1 Cor 14:34-35 varies between manuscripts, the material does not. We cannot follow Fee's honorable evasion.

    I understand your methodology for explaining the challenge between 11:5 and 14:34. I grant that it has some merit, because Paul DOES talk about the "WHOLE CHURCH' (although in chapter 14 he does so only in the context of a rhetorical question – v.23 'if the whole assembly convenes').

    I KNOW this sounds like special pleading, but I will not attribute sexism to Paul. When he wants to rebuke or modify MALE behavior, he knows how to do so (1 Tim 2:8). That is why I struggle with the conflict between 14:31 and 14:34.

    v. 31 – You can ALL prophesy one by one
    v.34 – Women must be silent, as the Law says.

    There is a parallelism of thought in v.31 that is really important – ALL can prophesy so that ALL can learn and ALL can be comforted.

    Could vv.34-35 be limited by v.29? "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment." But 'laleo' appears in both places, and Paul uses that to describe what the prophets do.

    Maybe I'm just full of silly emotions. But I get really frustrated by commentators who gush at the beauty of the equality written about in Gal 3:28, and then slam the door on that equality in 1 Cor and 1 Tim. Like this:

    Matthew Henry on Gal 3:28 – as the one is not accepted on the account of any national or personal advantages he may enjoy above the other, so neither is the other rejected for the want of them; but all who sincerely believe on Christ, of what nation, or sex, or condition, soever they be, are accepted of him, and become the children of God through faith in him.

    Matthew Henry on 1 Cor 14 – The woman was made subject to the man, and she should keep her station and be content with it. For this reason women must be silent in the churches, not set up for teachers; for this is setting up for superiority over the man.

    So Christianity really changes nothing for women: Being ruled by men came from the curse (Gen 3:16), continues now , and will continue in the ekklesia of the firstborn for all eternity (Heb 12:23). If it is a law for the whole assembly in Corinth, certainly it will be a law for the whole assembly in the New Jerusalem!

    I see how being a child of God reverses the curse for men. Doesn't seem to do much to the curse's effect on women, though.

  6. Alan says:

    I'm just not sure the women's role (as I understand that role) is really a curse. If men are being overbearing, then yes, it could be called a curse. But if men are conducting themselves with the fruits of the Spirit, loving their wives as Christ loved the church, I don't think it is a curse. It would be no more a curse for women to submit to men, than for men to submit to Christ. (Eph 5)I know a lot of women who agree with that perspective.

    In heaven these distinctions will disappear. Jesus said that the last will be first. While the submissive role of women might seem unfair to us today, it will seem imminently fair when we see the ultimate outcome of it. A woman who embraces the role God has given her in this life will not regret it in any way on that Day.

  7. Nick Gill says:

    I'm not so sure.

    Gen 2:18b – "I will make an 'ezer kenegdo'" – typically translated something like "a helper fit for him"

    But 'EZER means either: a STRENGTH (Deut 33.26; 33.29; Ps 68:34; 93:1;
    or a RESCUER (Ex 18.4; Hos 13.9; Ps 20.2; 121.1, 2; 124.8; 146.5)

    KENEGDO is a challenge. As one commentator writes, "This word is a hapax legomenon; that is, a word that appears in the Bible a single time. In post biblical Hebrew (i.e. the Mishnah) the term simply means “equal” as in the famous saying 'The study of the torah is equal (keneged) to all the other commandments.' "

    So, in Gen 2:18, after Adam learns that he has no companion among all the creatures of creation, God says, "I will make a power corresponding to, or equal to, the man."

    And then in Gen 3:16, as part of the curse, God says, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

    If being ruled by her husband was part of the original design, how does it get into the curse saying?

    I agree with your last sentence, brother. My fear is for men, men who have cast women into a subservience that God did not give her in this life. The women will not regret it, but the men may.

    PS – It is not a curse for men to submit to Christ because Christ perfectly fulfills Eph 5:21 – Christ submitted himself to the needs of the church. Mutual submission. "Love does not demand its own way." – 1 Cor 13:5

  8. Gary says:

    I don't have time to amplify more just now, but hope to do so later. I have been lurking on Jay's site for a while now — it has become one of my favorites. In connection with this discussion, and Jay's observations about hermeneutics, I haven't seen mention of John Stackhouse's book, Finally Feminist. While you might not agree with all he writes, or all of his conclusions, I think you will find his work extremely pertinent here. I agree fully this is a challenging study, one made more difficult for all the reasons Jay mentions. I applaud the tone and tenor of the discussions — with a few notable exceptions. Kudos to all, and expecially Jay.

  9. Joe Baggett says:

    I am sure that when the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the New Testament and instructed the councils of Nicea which books should be a part of the NT canon he was thinking that 2000 years later we would be talking about the imperative and other moods of the Koine Greek. There is specific commands to greet one another with a Holy kiss fives times in the New Testament. When we begin to try to discern the original intent of the writer so we can get out commands like this and other to raise hands in Holy prayer that don’t if into the patterns of church that we have already established, then we are trying to prove our way is right rather than being objectively consistent. I don’t if you are the best Greek scholar in the world the CENI and variant hermeneutics though well intentioned are inconsistent. The more we try tom make up excuses and talk about the tense or mood of the original Greek so we can ignore some commands but dis-fellowhsip people over others the more we convict our selves of heresy.

  10. Alan says:

    Nick wrote:

    So, in Gen 2:18, after Adam learns that he has no companion among all the creatures of creation, God says, “I will make a power corresponding to, or equal to, the man.”

    Based on your own explanation, you've chosen the translation on two words that is most favorable to the point you want to make. Instead, why not let what Paul wrote clarify it?

    1Co 11:9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

  11. Nick Gill says:

    Brother Alan,

    I will agree that I am biased in this discussion. I will not agree that you are objective. I think you are swayed by the general historical bias against women that informs 3000 years of translation history.

    If you can find other ancient uses of the word 'kenegdo', I would be THRILLED to learn of it. Any appearance it makes in ancient texts can help us understand it here. I think 'ezer proves itself well enough. This noun appears 21 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. You can look, but most of those passages point to savior/deliverer or strength/power. It never carries the connotation of assistant or servant (unless GOD is Israel's servant!)

    When one reads the English word FOR in 1 Cor 11:9, one should note that it is not EIS, one of the church's favorite Greek words, that is being translated there. It is DIA – which means THROUGH or BECAUSE OF, BY REASON OF or even FOR THE SAKE OF. 1 Co 11:9 suggests nothing about leadership or submission.

    It says that woman came through man.

    It does not say "Woman came to serve man."

  12. Alan says:

    Nick,

    The context says that, because woman was created *for* man, she should have a sign of authority on her head. It also says Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of woman. That should suffice to clarify what Paul meant, and therefore what Gen 2:18 meant.

    There's no need for me to quote all the other NT passages speaking of the relationship between husbands and wives — you know them.

  13. Jay Guin says:

    Re KENEGO —

    Dr. Rick R. Marrs, professor at Pepperdine, writes in 2 Osburn, Essays on Women in earliest Christianity,

    Rather, is it the relationship that is paramount; the hierarchical dynamics of that relationship are left unspecified by 'EZER. For this reason, the prepositional phrase KENEGDO is of paramount significance.(47) If 'EZER designates the relationship, KENEGDO designates the nature of the relationship.

    (p 20).

    Footnote 47 says,

    KENEGDO literally means: "like his counterpart," i.e., "corresponding to him."

    Marrs also makes the frequently made point that 'EZER has no connotation of inferiority. Hence, he suggests "suitable partner."

    "Partner" is a good translation of 'EZER. However, if KENEGDO means "corresponding to him," wouldn't be more likely that God means "similar partner"?

  14. Jay, just discovered your blog recently and am enjoying a little Saturday cruise through it.

    I'm not a Greek scholar (nor do I play one on TV), so I'm out-of-the-loop as far as that goes … but it does seem to me that Paul's instructions about women in worship are conditional upon the circumstances at the time and in those places, including the behavior of some women in gathered worship (in Corinth) and what some of them may have been teaching (in Ephesus).

    I've blogged about it in a post titled Worship, Gifts and Women, so I won't belabor it here. Would be interested in your take on it.

  15. Jay Guin says:

    Keith,

    You make a lot of sense.

    Rather than exegeting the usual proof passages right off the bat, I'm working through the theology within which Paul wrote — the use of Eden as a template for the relationship of Christian husbands and wives.

    I'll be posting on the topic every other day for a while.

    I'm tired of swapping proof texts back and forth. And so, if my audience will be patient with me, I think I can build a case deeply rooted in the gospel. But to do it right, it'll take a while.

  16. I'm looking forward to it!

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