Buried Talents: “Women should remain silent in the churches” (More hermeneutical considerations)

I’d like to ask the readers to harken back to the beginning of this series several weeks ago. I began with a discussion of hermeneutics, because it’s in hermeneutics where our real disagreements are often found. Let me remind the readers of a few principles and perhaps add a few more.

1. Biases are invisible to the self. Everyone is biased, but no one is aware of his own biases. After all, when we become aware of a bias, we are no longer until its control.

It does no good to tell your opponent that he’s biased. He can’t see it. But he can see yours! It’s a pointless discussion — unless you can put your finger on exactly the bias and show how it’s a mistake. Even then, we often fail.

Of course, part of the problem is that we rarely know someone well enough to psychoanalyze his biases correctly and so challenge them. In fact, in most religious debate, the accusations of bias I read are wrong. The only time we are apt to be right is when we are challenging the bias of someone who is where we once were. Then we can empathize. But even then, we are very unlikely to persuade someone of his bias.

Therefore, I try to avoid making such accusations, even when someone’s biases are very evident. There’s just nothing to be gained.

But this should be a warning to us all. We all have biases, and it’s dang hard to get rid of them, even when we want to. Therefore, it’s extraordinarily important that we start with a rock-solid hermeneutic. It won’t solve all our disagreements — we’ll argue over how to apply it — but it will help a lot.

2. God is not arbitrary. There are two views of God in Christianity — among theological conservatives. My view is that God makes sense. God does not arbitrarily command things just because. There’s good reason for whatever he does. And it’s ultimately going to be simple. (Disproving a contrary teaching may be extremely complex because there’s such a gap between the parties, however.)

The alternative view is that God sometimes issues commands that we simply don’t and perhaps can’t understand. We need to accept these in faith and obey them. Indeed, these commands may well be tests of our faith.

No one is 100% on one side or the other, but I think we are on far safer ground the closer we can get to the first position.

Here’s the brief for my position —

(Rom 12:2)  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Paul says that for those with transformed minds, God’s will make sense. We can test it! And if we do, we’ll approve it! It’s a profound thought.

At the end of Do We Teach Another Gospel?, I offer some tests for truth. One is Ockham’s Razor, which is not so much a proof as a reflection of the divine mind. God likes things simple. Hence, I take very, very seriously such verses as —

(1 John 3:21-23)  Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

(Gal 5:6)  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

(Gal 5:14)  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

(Rom 13:8-10)  Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Faith and love. Those are the commands that there are. I think it’s true.

And if that’s true, what is the rule for women speaking in church?

4. Eden tells us how husbands and wives relate in a perfect world.

Genesis 1 and 2 tells us a lot about marriage. Jesus and Paul refer back to Eden to describe how things are supposed to be.

Hence, the fact that wives are to be suitable complements for their husbands is part of the natural order of things. It’s how we were always meant to be.

Now, it’s not so much a command as a return to our original purpose — and what makes us happiest and what’s best for us. Just so, homosexuality is not arbitrarily made a sin; rather, homosexuality is contrary to what’s best for us — as individuals and as a society. It’s not Edenic. The same is true of premarital sex and adultery. It’s not God being a prude. It’s God knowing how we’re designed, as individuals, as couples, and as a community. Get away from Eden, and things start to fall apart. Read the papers. God’s right.

Thus, as we get to such passages as 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2, we have to read them with the bigger picture in mind. Whatever the interpretation is, it’s not just so. It comes from faith, love, and Eden.

5. The gospel tells us how to live as Christians.

“Gospel” means what we had to know to be saved. It’s our acceptance — acquiescence, really — that Jesus is Lord, the Messiah, and our Savior. It’s not intellectual. It’s a change of will and of worldview. It changes everything for those whom God regenerates.

But here’s the tricky and very important part. Over and over again, when Paul is confronted with a problem, he reminds his readers of the gospel. The gospel — in all its simplicity — gives the answer. (Not always, but surprisingly often.)

Paul, should Jews and Greek eat separately?

No, they were saved by one gospel into one community by one Savior of us all.

Paul, may I have sex with a temple prostitute?

No, Jesus gave his life for you and his Spirit lives in you. How could you join something holy to something unholy?

Paul, may I eat meat sacrificed to idols?

Yes, because idols aren’t real. Only God is real. But when you put your faith in Jesus, you committed to love your brothers. If your eating hurts them, don’t do it. Don’t let your freedom overcome your love.

Paul, may women take off their veils in church?

No, because they’d shame their husbands. They were made as complements for their husbands. They can’t do anything to disgrace their husbands!

Obviously, this is the short course. The longer version of this discussion may be found here and here and here and here. And we’ll discuss these considerations further as we go. I just thought this was a good time to step back and think big picture.

Now, if you see things this way, you know before you do the hard, exegetical work that God does not intend that women wear veils until the end of time. It’s neither faith nor love nor Eden. And you know that men don’t have to wear short hair and women don’t have to let their hair hang loosely down in every culture and every time.

But in a culture where the lack of a veil shames husbands or jeopardizes the spread of the gospel, veils must be worn.

Now, I hasten to add that we can’t just dismiss the verses that seem inconsistent with this theory. Rather, we do the hard work of getting into the Greek and history and theology of the hard verses to see if maybe we’ve misunderstood them. We can’t just pick the verses we like.

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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: “Women should remain silent in the churches” (More hermeneutical considerations)

  1. Jay Guin says:

    Alan wrote,

    A hermeneutic that demands that we be able to understand why before we will obey is seriously flawed. It is when we do not understand that our faith is tested.

    That's true. It's not what I meant to say.

    We don't have to understand to obey. Heck, I don't understand the crucifixion or why faith is so central. I don't have a clue as to how the Spirit does what he does. There's a lot I don't understand.

    However, I think understanding is very often the key to obedience. If you don't understand, you may well be obeying the wrong thing!

    Now, I wouldn't presume to understand any of God's will but for the fact that he says we're supposed to understand it. Faith tells me it must be true. Logically, it doesn't have to be true, because God's ways are far beyond ours.

    Ponder this one:

    (1 Cor 2:14-15) The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:

    Just as is stated in Rom 12, as quoted in the main post above, God says he fully expects us to understand — not all of God or his ways, but what he expects of us.

    The point is this: many devout, deeply spiritual Christians consider obedience a test. We don't have to understand. We just obey. And because it's a test, it doesn't have to make sense.

    There are problems with this view —

    * It contradicts God's own self-revelation. He's the one who said it's just faith expressing itself through love. He's the one who said the spiritual will understand, test, and approve his will.

    * It offers an inadequate filter against error. When two competing interpretations of a scripture are offered, the fight is over words and Greek tenses but not over principle or God's purposes. After all, God's purpose may just be to test us! As a result, the two sides go — quite literally — centuries without reaching agreement.

    Now, I'll admit that I find this concept a bit scary. It's way outside my upbringing and church culture. I'd be more comfortable with a rulebook. I am, after all, a lawyer. But the more I study God's word, the more I find these teachings woven into its fabric.

    Now, this short post is not the complete exposition, but it's the core. To get the complete exposition you need to read Do We Teach Another Gospel? front to back. Oh, and I should've added this short post to the list in the main post.

  2. Alan says:

    Therefore, it’s extraordinarily important that we start with a rock-solid hermeneutic

    but…

    No one is 100% on one side or the other, but I think we are on far safer ground the closer we can get to the first position.

    Sounds like we are still searching for that rock-solid hermeneutic… you know, the one that does not rely on so much subjective judgment.

    Faith and love are wonderful traits, and are central to Christianity. Perhaps those are the aspects we like to think about the most. But they don’t cover the whole subject. There is not only faith, but also obedience. God is not only loving, but also holy and righteous. He not only loves those he has created, but he hates some things also (“My soul hates divorce” for example…) He is not only merciful, but also just. If our hermeneutic is to be based on the attributes of God, and how he deals with mankind, we need to get all those attributes and dealings out there on the table. They all play a role in understanding what God is saying to us (ie, in hermeneutics). It’s not just faith and love.

    Christianity does not wipe away the necessity for fear of God.

    We cannot understand everything about God. We struggle and fail to envision both his mercy and his justice; both his wrath and his love. But they are both there and both intense beyond our ability to visualize. There absolutely are some commands of God that we don’t understand. We probably don’t even fully understand the things we think we do understand! We have a tendency toward a vast overconfidence in ourselves, in what we know, in what we understand. God is bigger than that, more mysterious than that, more in every way than what we imagine.

    You can’t put God in a box. You can’t fence God in. We only see a small piece of the picture. God sees the whole thing. That is why we need faith, to believe the things God tells us that we would never figure out for ourselves… and to obey the things God tells us to do even when we don’t fully understand the reasons behind it.

    A hermeneutic that demands that we be able to understand why before we will obey is seriously flawed. It is when we do not understand that our faith is tested.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Ah, but “faith” includes obedience, as explained in the communion meditation I just posted. But the scriptures plainly tell us what obedience is obedience to: the command to love. It all fits together.

    The logic of Gal 5 is that circumcision is not a command because it’s neither faith nor love. Read 5:6 with that in mind, and it flows quite beautifully and simply.

    You see, my position really is the simplest one.

    God hates divorce because it’s the antithesis of Eden and of love. God hates divorce because he loves men and women.

    Now, I make no pretense of having all the answers. But I have been given some of the answers. We all have. The hard part is putting the answers into effect. Knowing to love is easy. Loving is hard. Knowing how to love well is even harder.

    I know I’m to love the marginalized of society. Loving them is hard. Knowing how to actually help them in a way that makes a real difference is even harder.

    Hence, my view is that the great puzzles — the ones that matter — are how to put love into action in a way that will truly bring the Kingdom to earth, so that God’s will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.

    Knowing that we are to participate in that through faith and love is simple enough. Doing much about it is hard. Doing it well seems well nigh impossible.

    God never meant for us to be entrapped in figuring out his will. He never meant for us to be entrapped in rules that have nothing to do with faith and love and hope.

  4. Alan says:

    The point is this: many devout, deeply spiritual Christians consider obedience a test. We don’t have to understand. We just obey. And because it’s a test, it doesn’t have to make sense.

    The greatest example of faith we have is Abraham sacrificing Isaac. He didn't know why. Given what he knew at the time, it wouldn't have seemed to fit in with grace and love. He would be losing the son he had been given through grace. He would be killing an innocent child. How is that grace and love? If he had applied your hermeneutic, he never would have offered Isaac.

  5. Jon Shelton says:

    Actually, Abraham would have offered Isaac anyway. He had the faith to be able to reason to himself that God could raise him (Isaac) from the dead [Heb 11:19]. He might not have understood why the process was going to be necessary, but he had figured out what the outcome would be.

  6. Alan says:

    Jon

    That's actually my point. We assume God has good reasons, and that his plan will be best, whether we understand how all that will work out or not. Similarly, a woman can comply with the scriptural role of submission in the faith that God will reward her obedience. As Jesus said, the last shall be first.

  7. Joe Baggett says:

    The assumption here in this whole issue is since Paul wrote these instructions, however we interpret them to this specific church in Corinth, that had specific problems, they are applicable to all congregations everywhere until Christ returns with no further questions asked. The only other letter or book in the NT mentioning related issues about women is Timothy’s. All the other Pauline letters give little to no global instruction to the role of women in or out of a formal assembly. We must admit that there was a cultural element here. If there was never a church in Corinth do you think we would have these same passages about women remaining silent at all times? No, I don’t think so because it was never addressed in any other epistle to any local church. Obedience is certainly and idea that is brought out many times in the OT and NT. Comparing the obedience of Abraham to this specific instruction with that Paul gives to the Corinthians making a global assumption in application is like comparing apples to oranges. Obedience does not mean blind obedience like you must turn your brain off and not think or read the Bible critically. If we are not careful with our law making no matter how well intentioned we will end up making the Gospel into another empty dogmatic controlling religion no matter how obedient we think we are.

  8. Alan says:

    Joe,

    There are two questions to be addressed. First ,what did these instructions mean to the churches in Paul's day? Second, what do they mean today? The two questions have to be considered separately. You really need an answer to the first question before you can properly address the second.

  9. Kyle says:

    Even in answering the first question, culture and understanding play a role in answering the second question.
    In the first century Paul was asking women to learn in quietness and to be silent. There are a number of good reasons for that statement in the first century context.
    It would seem today there are less and less reasons for that statement to be applied in a "women can say nothing in the assembly."

    Also, what Law is Paul referring to when he says, "They are not allowed to speak, but be in submission, as the Law says.

  10. Alan says:

    Kyle,

    More often, the discussion churns because we keep drifting back and forth between the questions. The conversation would be *FAR* simpler if we could get consensus that the first century women were expected to be silent in the assembly, and to wear head coverings whenever they prayed or prophesied. That would eliminate much of the quarrelling over what the words mean, what contexts referred only to the assembly, and many other (IMO) dubious arguments trying to get around interpretations on which commentators have agreed for many centuries. Then we could spend our energies addressing the second question, which IMO is a far more important question.

  11. Joe Baggett says:

    Here is the deal for me as I read these types of passages. There are themes and deeper ideas that are in all the New Testament writings. These are things such as love, Joy Peace, Patience, Kindness, Holiness, Self Control, Faith, goodness, mercy, etcetera that are found in almost every single book of the NT. Then there are things like head coverings, silent women, the first day of the week etcetera that only occur in one maybe two books in one instance with obscure and specific situations. Again if they were not predominantly Jewish audience I am pretty sure we have no scripture about head coverings or the length of a man's hair. As I have grown older and studied more and asked more questions and asked God to reveal himself to me there is a part of me in my core being that can no longer believe in a God that is mostly concerned about a head coverings, what day of the week we take communion, women not asking questions in Bible class, and so on. I believe most of these conclusions were the product of the restoration movement’s leader’s pre-supposed and mis-guided but well intentioned attempt to just stick to the Bible. I now believe that God is most concerned with our character and behavior, how we treat each other and others not following some set pattern for doing church. Paul said pure and undefiled religion is to keep one self pure and look after the orphans and widows. He did not say it was to keep and pattern the first century had for doing church. The whole assumption for the restoration movement idea of unity is based on the idea that the form of first century Christianity any way it can be determined either through the Bible or secular history is the only form of Christianity that can be acceptable to God. It is important to understand the spirit, thinking, and function of the apostles, Jesus, and the early Christians because that is what should drive the form. Here is a question how does a head covering or silent women lead us to change our character to Love, Joy, Peace Patience, Kindness etcetera? In this culture it doesn’t, maybe it did for them back in the first century. The underlying crucible for all the religious laws we have made up the restoration movement should be this. Whatever religious ritual or act that leads us to change our character into the nature of God is authorized. I don’t care if it is flying a kite or walking backwards if it teaches to love people the way God loves people it is authorized. I know many of you here on this board will disagree and have a hard time with that. But there are countless parables from the mouth of Jesus that give this thinking considerable support.

  12. Nick Gill says:

    The greatest example of faith that we have is Jesus of Nazareth in the Garden of Gethsemane submitting to the will of God.

    God has given us FAR more information about his purposes than Abraham possessed.

    God has given us His own SPIRIT.

    When God appears to me and commands me to do something incomprehensible, I will do it with all my heart and soul.

    Until then, I will believe his Scripture that says that beleivers should be fully convinced in their minds, and that believers can understand what God commands, and that believers can and should test and approve what God's will really is.

    This whole conversation is one example of such testing, even though you believe we are TWISTING, not testing.

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