1 Thessalonians: 4:11-12 (Hermeneutic reflections)

map of greeceWhen we run into a difficult passage, such as this passage, how do we decide what’s really being said and whether it is literally binding on the church as written?

I took several shortcuts in my blog post, just to avoid having to write 6,000 words on the subject. But I did do my hermeneutical homework before posting it. For example, I read several different commentaries from multiple authors and multiple schools of thought (10 or so). I checked the NET translator notes (nearly nothing on the question I addressed). And sorted through the passage in terms of the great over-arching narrative of scripture.

Two approaches. I’m going to compare and contrast two approaches to hermeneutics. There is the approach that includes the Bible’s over-arching narrative (“narrative hermeneutics”), and then there’s the approach that simply says “means what it says, says what it means” (“simplistic hermeneutics”).

I’ve read several older commentaries and several lesson plans based on this passage from Church of Christ websites. No one that I can find uses simplistic hermeneutics when teaching this passage — although it’s very common when other passages are interpreted. I suppose the fact that preachers, as a rule, do not work with their hands keeps them from arguing that God commands us to work with our hands.

However, I  have heard one sermon preached where the simplistic position was taken — and it proved very controversial. The preacher had just bought a farm and so considered himself to satisfy the rule. Now that he was doing manual labor, he called the rest of the congregation to repent and do manual labor. (He soon changed congregations.)

Image result for three card monteThe approach that is often used when the simplistic method just won’t do is the Three-Card Monte method — just leap to a conclusion, don’t explain your reasons, and hope no one looks under the cards. That is, countless sermons and lesson plans just ignore the question but silently redefine “work with your hands” as “work” with no explanation.

My suspicion is that in his training, the preacher often isn’t equipped with the tools for sound hermeneutics. When he uses the simplistic approach, the result was clearly mistaken — but he had now way to defend his contrary conclusion. Hence … drop back 15 yards and punt. (Sorry for mixing metaphors.)

Commentaries. One of the biggest mistakes we in the Churches of Christ tend to make in interpreting the scriptures is refusing to read commentaries from outside the Churches of Christ — and as a denomination, we’ve not produced much in the way of commentaries. Worse yet, even the ones we have are often nearly a century old, and they are heavily reliant on 19th Century and older commentaries (Barnes Notes, Clarke’s, etc.). We simply ignore all else because, after all, those other commentaries are written by people going to hell (because they use instruments in their worship of God, at the least) </sarcasm font>.

Obviously, we should not mindlessly accept any human commentary as true — but two heads are better than one — and if you read 10 commentaries, well, each of those is built on literally hundreds of other sources. You get the benefit of the scholarship, wisdom, and experience of a lot of believers in Jesus who’ve dedicated their lives to Bible study.

That is, you have to approach the text with humility — not assuming that you know all there is to know about the text because of your choice of denomination. Rather, you read the text to find out what is true. You don’t start with what you think is true and then impose your assumptions on the text.

(Not everyone is blessed to own as many commentaries as I own. I am very blessed, and I received many of these for free as part of a review of a Bible study software product.)

Most of us have access to a church library. Some of us have access to multiple libraries because we have friends who attend other churches. And there are vast online resources, mostly for free, although you have to borrow or pay for what I would consider the most valuable commentaries.

Now, my use of so many commentaries doesn’t make me right. I still have to sort through the differing opinions to reach my own. And so there’s plenty of room for human error — but I’m far less prone to error when I have so many scholars teaching me. Because I now have a much better understanding of the historical background and the translation/grammar issues, I’ll make fewer mistakes.

The Narrative. As Bobby Valentine and John Mark Hicks have shown, the Churches of Christ had a surprisingly mature narrative theology in the 19th Century. Our preachers were saying many of the same things that N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight are saying today. But the 20th Century saw us take major steps backwards as we accepted just about any argument that might win a debate with the Baptists over baptism or instrumental music. Learning the biblical narrative did not help win debates, and so we lost interest in the question. We stopped reading to learn and instead read to find proof texts for a debate — two very different things.

(I enjoy a good Bible debate more than most, and so I must see that flaw in myself and always remember that it’s never about proving me right.)

Now, in the case of 1 Thess 4:11-12, we can fairly ask what “work with your hands” has to do with God’s redemptive scheme, the Kingdom, and such like. And that answer is that “work” has a great deal to do with the major themes of scripture. Adam and Eve worked in the Garden before sin entered the world. They were charged to keep and work the Garden (Gen 2:15).

In Rev 22, we see our vocation in the New Heavens and New Earth —

(Rev. 22:3-5 ESV)  3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. … 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. 

The saved will worship (or serve; the Greek is ambiguous) and reign — a word used of kings and queens, and a reference back to the dominion given mankind back in Gen 1:26-28.

Of course, we learn in Matt 18 that leaders in the church are to be servants or slaves of those over whom they have leadership. So “reign” and “serve” are also overlapping concepts.

Now, there is much more that could be said on these things, but for now, it suffices to note that Paul’s worldview assumes that humanity works — more precisely, we have a vocation or mission from God that includes reigning over the Creation through  service and worshiping or serving God (not necessarily two different things).

If I’m a follower of Jesus in First Century Thessalonica, there are many kinds of work I might do that serve God. But in that culture, to avoid manual labor, a believer would have to accept the patronage of a wealthy pagan, which may involve obligations inconsistent with Christianity.

And so, in terms of the Bible’s over-arching narrative, I don’t see a reason for Paul to insist on manual labor. As noted in the last post, there are many examples in the OT of honored worshipers of God who worked but not at manual labor. Jesus did not engage in manual labor during his three-years of ministry. Therefore, the intended contrast is between working (assuming good health and that jobs are available) and seeking to live a life of leisure.

And this makes for contemporary applications that are far more challenging to us than the simplistic reading insisting on manual labor as opposed to any God-honoring labor. In  yesterday’s post, I pointed out questions raised regarding our approach to retirement. (I’m 62 and so the question is not abstract to me at all.) It also affects our approach to unemployment and other social safety net benefits when you are capable of working and there are jobs available.

And, to me, the fact that my reading leads to decidedly unpopular questions tells me that I’m probably on the right path. My reading keeps the text relevant to today’s reader and challenges our view of things at the worldview level. That’s a mark of a sound reading.

Simplistic hermeneutics. On the other hand, there is another approach. First, we don’t study Roman and Greek cultural backgrounds. Rather, we just read what the text says outside of its historical context.

Next, we ignore the immediate textual context —

(1 Thess. 4:9-12 ESV)  9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,  10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,  11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,  12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 

For example, we don’t take into account the theme stated by Paul: “Now concerning brotherly love.” And “so that you may walk properly and be dependent on no one.”

Choosing an intellectual job, such as teaching, rather than manual labor, has nothing to do with whether someone is dependent on others. And it has nothing to do with “walking properly before outsiders.” However, the choice to earn your living rather than being dependent on a pagan obviously does.

Next, we aren’t bothered by the arbitrariness of the result. We just accept the simplistic interpretation because we read the Bible as a list of rules and commands, each of which is a test of our willingness to render “precision obedience.” The  more arbitrary the command, the tougher the test and more we show ourselves faithful by honoring commands that don’t make sense in our current setting.

Now, this is obviously a highly abbreviated analysis, but hopefully it’s enough to demonstrate why simplistic readings are usually wrong even when they seem to best fit the literal words.

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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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64 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: 4:11-12 (Hermeneutic reflections)

  1. eddodds says:

    On of the things I’ve learned via the Disciples of Christ Historical Society (specifically, some of Board member Lester McAllister’s writing), Gary Holloway’s Daily Devotional book, etc. is that while CoC’s/SC’s don’t “have commentaries” they have had many journals/newspapers which have served the same sociological/theological alignment purposes.

  2. eddodds says:

    On the work with your hands topic I am first reminded that Paul worked with his hands as an apostle (while he did accept gifts from churches — I assume to defray the expenses and salaries of his team of fellow evangelists). This gave him: 1) an example [that proved he wasn’t peddling the good news], 2) portable skills in the case of a purge like that seen around the Roman Christians and Jews, and 3) specifically as a tent maker, he would have met a lot of religious pilgrims (including Gentiles) who were in need of tents and who were likely already asking questions about God/gods in their daily lives; and so like the Aeropagus, it would have been a tactical part of his evangelism. And on Jesus and manual work, he did in fact commonly use his hands during healing so the fact that we don’t think of doctors as working with their hands (manual labor), I assume the world view in which Jesus operated may have seen this differently. I know the Talmud has a lot to say re: assumptions about Rabbis and labor.

  3. JohnF says:

    As a young preacher I experienced considerable criticism for a “Says what it means, means what it says,” bulletin article. And yet, is that not indeed the very purpose of a hermeneutic (term is not directly in the NT).? We want to know what it means through what it says. If that is “simplistic” so be it. It should not be necessary to plumb the depths of history, cultural milieu , and philology to understand the will of God for our lives. It may interesting, absorbing, spiritually fulfilling, intellectually satisfying and stimulating — even enlightening in some or many different ways. But if our core doctrinal understanding and practice is predicated on such concerns that only the intellectually “elite” and “doctors of the law” may interpret for us, “Let ME tell you what it means, rather thatn “Come, let US reason together” — there is likely something deeply deficient in our hermeneutic principle. “He who seeks finds, and to him that knocks, it shall be opened.”

  4. Andrew says:

    I didn’t take Jay’s comments as “Let ME tell you what it means, rather thatn “Come, let US reason together”. I doubt he meant it like that – Just my 10 cents.

    I used to read the Bible like you suggest and It seems to work best only when you presuppose the author’s intent. Say, for example, you presuppose that I’m writing this to attack you – will you not find attack in it? What if my purpose was not to attack and you took it as an attack? Would you be right simply because of your interpretation (hermeneutic)?

    Suppose you think the NT is a NEW law book? Will you not look for commands? Suppose you assume that the purpose of the gospels is to reveal the historical Jesus…you will read the gospels as historic narrative. But what if Matthew didn’t intend for his work to be historical? What if Genesis 1-11 is not intended to be historical? What if their message is polemical or theological? How would you know?

    I don’t think it’s safe to discount other views and criticisms of the biblical text simply because they seek to address either the world behind the text or the world of the text. Context of Scripture is WAY more than just 5 verses on either side of the verse in question.

  5. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:


    “The Narrative. As Bobby Valentine and John Mark Hicks have shown, the Churches of Christ had a surprisingly mature narrative theology in the 19th Century. Our preachers were saying many of the same things that N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight are saying today.”

    I am interested in the references. A book by BV and JMH? To which Wright & McKnight works are BV and JMH similar?

  6. JohnF says:

    JohnF: “But if our core doctrinal understanding and practice is predicated on such concerns that only the intellectually “elite” and “doctors of the law” may interpret for us, “Let ME tell you what it means, rather than “Come, let US reason together” — there is likely something deeply deficient in our hermeneutic principle.” This was the key portion of the comment. I made no accusation.

    And I certainly did not denigrate the value of study, nor indicate context consists of 5 verses either side of one in consideration. Having read much of Campbell, Stone, and Scott I think it fair to say they little discussed a “grand NARRATIVE theology.” I also would be interested in how JMH and BV try to make that case. Campbell’s “The Christian System” does not read like narrative theology. http://icotb.org/resources/Campbell,Alexander-TheChristianSystem.pdf

  7. Mark says:

    Much of the NT hearkens back to the prophets; yet, when I was asked to read a few verses before Sunday school started, I was expected to only read from the NT and criticized for reading from the prophets once. Jesus and Paul sure referred back to the Law and the Prophets and generally presumed the Jewish audience knew about them.

    Jay wrote “the fact that my reading leads to decidedly unpopular questions.” Perhaps this was fear manifesting itself as a “thou shalt not.”

  8. Dwight says:

    I prefer to take a simplistic approach with an understanding of the context in which it exist and then see the intent of the passage, not just one approach. Text and Context. One of the things that I have noticed is that a lot more people understand something or can make sense of things when they read it, as opposed to having someone break it down and then build it up and then relay it for understanding. I mean do we really need thirty more verses on love, when we read “God so loved the world and gave His only begotten son for it.”?
    In the case of I Thess. “brotherly love …to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
    The thrust seems to be “work and live your life in Christ and don’t cause trouble amongst others.”
    If the thought was about working with your hands, then most of the apostles who skimmed off of others as they preached were in violation, but they also had vocations as well that they used. Now in Rome you had groups that spent their life in philosophical meanderings and were employed in this, so this perhaps is in view.

  9. JohnF says:

    I think the prophet has something to say about “complexity” of understanding (hermeneutics). Perhaps has something to say about a “simplistic” (Jay’s term) hermeneutic. Does not the term “simplistic” seem to have an inherent negative bias? Those interpret “simplistically” (Jay’s term) are NOT to to compared in a favorable light with those who can see the “grand narrative story.” “Could we find a less prejudicial term, your honor?”

    Isa 35:8
    And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
    the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

    8 A highway shall be there, and a road,
    And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.
    The unclean shall not pass over it,
    But it shall be for others.
    Whoever walks the road, although a fool,
    Shall not go astray.

    8 A highway will be there, a roadway,
    And it will be called the Highway of Holiness.
    The unclean will not travel on it,
    But it will be for him who walks that way,
    And fools will not wander on it.

    And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.

    8 And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for (the redeemed): the wayfaring men, yea fools, shall not err (therein).

    8 And a highway shall be there, and a way; and it shall be called the Holy Way. The unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for the redeemed; the wayfaring men, yes, the simple ones and fools, shall not err in it and lose their way.

    A highway will be there, a way,
    called the Way of Holiness.
    The unclean will not pass over it,
    but it will be for those whom he guides —
    fools will not stray along it.

    here will be a highway
    called the Holy Road.
    No one rude or rebellious
    is permitted on this road.
    It’s for God’s people exclusively —
    impossible to get lost on this road.
    Not even fools can get lost on it.
    (from THE MESSAGE)

    A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
    the unclean shall not travel on it,
    but it shall be for God’s people;
    no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

    And a highway hath been there, and a way, And the ‘way of holiness’ is called to it, Not pass over it doth the unclean, And He Himself [is] by them, Whoso is going in the way — even fools err not.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Quite true that Paul worked with his hands to support himself — as a tentmaker. But it is also true that he insisted that he didn’t have to and was entitled to be supported by those he preaches the gospel to. 1 Cor 9.

    It is true that the rabbis insisted that men (not women) be trained in a trade, even those who were to become rabbis. And so the Jewish culture honored and did not look down on manual labor — unlike the Greeks. But then, Jews were far less likely to own slaves. Only a society built on slave-holding (or the like) could despise manual labor for free people. It makes sense that Paul would see danger in an attitude that sneers at manual labor.

    American society tends to look down on manual labor, and this is one of many reasons that churches need to be sensitive to how they look to a visitor with less education or a less prestigious job. Many a blue collar worker decides that church X is not comfortable because of the members are more highly educated and drive nicer cars. These wealthy, educated Christians generally do not look down on those lacking a college degree, but they still feel out of place.

    Subtle signals indicate class expectations, especially how we dress. My view is that in church, you shouldn’t be able to tell the rich from the poor by their clothing or by who speaks with whom in the hallways. It’s a difficult challenge but something the Bible plainly tells us to be sensitive to.

    (Jas. 2:2-8 ESV) 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

    The practical challenges of living this command are immense. But that doesn’t excuse us from not even trying.

  11. JohnF says:

    It please me to know that in the community of believers with whom I am privileged to serve and worship — OT and NT passages are read each week. That is a good thing (also has apostolic precedent – 1Tim 4:13).

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JohnF wrote,

    “Could we find a less prejudicial term, your honor?”

    1. Why complain about prejudicial language while being sarcastic?

    2. I doubt that the readers here are in fact prejudiced by my terminology. They don’t seem that easily biased by me.

    3. I did define the concept in some detail.

    4. Merriam-Webster defines “simplistic” as —

    treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are.

    That’s exactly what I mean by the term and exactly the point I was intending to make. Can you suggest a word that means the same thing that is less “prejudicial”?

    5. Would you not agree that simplistic hermeneutics are in fact a serious problem in the Churches of Christ and ought to be protested?

    So I’m trying to understand what the real complaint here is. Are you saying that what I call “simplistic” is in fact the right way to read the text? Or is it that sometimes simplistic is the right way?

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JohnF (Part 2)

    You seem to argue that Isa 35:8 says that even fools who are in the “straight and narrow” will not stumble, that is, be lost — hence implying that even fools will be saved. This would seem to contradict the notion that hermeneutics and theology are extremely valuable to the church.

    A couple of points. First, hermeneutics and theology are done by the church, not individuals. They are both in the nature of ongoing conversations. They are not individualistic — despite the typical Western assumption to the contrary. This is easily seen in both the good and bad that is done as new ideas are suggested, discussed, and flow through the church community.

    As a result, those who are not elders or teachers are heavily influenced by the group-theology/hermeneutics through the pulpit and the classroom. The elders/teachers will, of course, be held to a higher standard. But there are other church members who influence denominational thought and who participate in the conversation — as bloggers, writers, or just being the person who checks those who teach and quietly corrects error.

    So I believe that God is going to be far more generous in his judgment as to those who simply believe what their church leaders tell them because they lack the education and training to test what is being taught. So I don’t greatly disagree with what I take to be your point.

    On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we all get to be fools. Those who can learn the scriptures and do hermeneutics don’t get to claim “fool” status and not bother to test the teachings of the leaders (or bloggers). Otherwise, there’d be no checks against mistakes by the group-think of our leaders.

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F (Part 3) —

    Second, that being said, I think you may be misreading Isa 35:8. I find Isaiah difficult and so I keep the commentaries close at hand when I try to interpret him.

    No fools will stumble has been understood in two differing ways. On the one hand, it is taken that the highway will be so smooth that even a simpleton could walk there. However, the word translated “fool” means not merely a simpleton but that morally perverse person who knowingly chooses the opposite to God’s truth. Thus the sense is the same as “no one unclean shall pass over it.” Hence the arrangement is chiastic: the “unclean” will not walk on the way; it is a way possessed by the righteous, “fools” will not stumble on it.

    John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 625.

    So the meaning could be opposite — that fools will not be there to stumble.

    fools, shall not err therein. EVV are apt to mislead. The meaning is that fools (i.e. the irreligious) will not be allowed to wander about on it.

    L. Elliott Binns, A New Commentary on Holy Scripture: Including the Apocrypha, 1942, 1, 457 (bold in original).

    There are obscurities in the Hebrew that the NIV translates “it will be for those who walk in that Way,” and there is some variety in modern EV at this point. The NIV has the merit of harmony with the context. Its translation “wicked fools” reflects the widespread use of אֱוִיל (ʾewîl, “fool”) with connotations of impiety (cf. Job 5:3; Prov 1:7) The NIV margin’s “the simple will not stray from it” reflects the less pejorative use of the term of a simpleton (Prov 11:29; 14:3). The moral context here supports the former.

    Geoffrey W. Grogan, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, 1986, 6, 223.

    The unclean are not allowed to enter a holy place, and the fools cannot travel there because they walk in ways that are contrary to the will of God. Neither group is morally or ritually qualified to come before God when he comes in his glory. Those who joyfully enter Zion to fellowship and praise God are the redeemed (gĕʾûlim) and ransomed (pĕdûʾyē)

    Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 1–39, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2007), 580.

    This seems to be the majority view among the OT scholars, although some read the text as saying “Even an idiot can find the Way of Holiness,” such as Keil and Delitzsch.

    So the text either means “Even a fool can find the Way of Holiness” or “A fool cannot be on the Way of Holiness,” with a majority of scholars arguing against the simplistic reading because of how “fool” is used in the OT and the implications of a chiastic reading.

    Third, in fact, there are other interpretive questions where a simplistic reading will likely reach the wrong result. For example —

    1. What does “unclean” mean? Literally, this would seem to refer to the Torah’s definition, but Isaiah seems to be looking ahead to the new covenant. What does “unclean” mean now? After all, Gentiles were unclean and one of the blessings of the new covenant is that the unclean Gentiles and Samaritans are welcomed into the Kingdom. So the literal, simplistic approach leads to an absurd result.

    2. “They shall not go astray” is interpreted by some commentators as predicting perseverance of the saints in the Calvinistic sense. Simplistically interpreted, this would seem exactly right. And yet I don’t think either of us accepts Calvinistic interpretations. Clearly, the literal words are not the intended meaning.

    In short, to me, this verse is an excellent example of my point: a simplistic reason is often the wrong meaning. You have to consider many other things, most esp. literary and historical context and the grand narrative of scripture — even when the text seems crystal clear on its face.

  15. Dwight says:

    I think there is an immense difference between a fool and a simple person, as most of the Jewish society lived as simple people, but were not foolish. Simple can simply mean uncomplicated, as in uncomplicated thinking or thinking too deep or uncomplicated life. If you look at the Amish, we would consider them simple people…as in that they work, eat, sleep, love, worship God, work, sleep, don’t spend a lot of time on entertainment or listening to world affairs, etc and many of them don’t have the time to ponder and think beyond what is right in front of them, and yet many of them make great business decisions and build great furniture, raise crops and animals(not foolish).
    Considering that the psalms never really has great things to say about the fool or the foolish, I would argue that the fool is at a disadvantage in Isaiah in regards to the “way of Holiness” as even the “unclean will not pass over it.”
    But then again considering how foolish we are in regards to the scriptures sometimes, we must again look towards the grace and mercy of God.

  16. JohnF says:

    I am well aware of the difficulty in Isa. 53:8 — but the point earlier made is still true –“You don’t have to be a “doctor of the law” to understand scripture.” I had no intent to be sarcastic in asking for a less prejudicial term — where I choose to be sarcastic, there is no misunderstanding the intent — I thought as a lawyer you might see a bit of humor, seeing that you provide some input as “judge” through these postings. No way to put a smile “emoticon” in place. I have been “chided” [no contempt of court charges, though one hearings officer knew I held the proceeding in contempt] by a couple of judges for “sarcasm” in hearings (regarding employee/ employer matters); however in all three cases sarcasm did not change the facts, and decisions made were appropriate.

    In other discussions of hermeneutic principles, “simplistic” is not normally given as an option. From Hartill, J E 1960. Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan come these differentiations:
    • The Historical-grammatical principle based on historical, socio-political, geographical, cultural and linguistic / grammatical context
    • Alternate, mutually-exclusive, models of history: (John: I would NOT agree that they are mutually exclusive)
    A) The Dispensational model or The Chronometrical Principle: “During different periods of time, God has chosen to deal in a particular way with man in respect to sin and man’s responsibility.”
    B) The Covenantal model: “We differentiate between the various contracts that God has made with his people; specifically their provisions, their parties and their purposes.”
    C) The New-Covenantal model: The Old Testament Laws have been fulfilled and abrogated or cancelled with Christ’s death, and replaced with the Law of Christ of the New Covenant, although many of the Old Covenant laws are reinstituted under the New Covenant.

    • The Ethnic Division Principle: “The word of truth is rightly divided in relation to the three classes which it treats, i.e. Jews, Gentiles and the Church.”
    • The Breach Principle: Interpretation of a certain verse or passage in Scripture is aided by a consideration of certain breaches, either breaches of promise or breaches of time.
    • The Christo-Centric Principle: “The mind of deity is eternally centered in Christ. All angelic thought and ministry are centered in Christ. All Satanic hatred and subtlety are centered at Christ. All human hopes are, and human occupations should be, centered in Christ. The whole material universe in creation is centered in Christ. The entire written word is centered in Christ.”
    • The Moral Principle
    • The Discriminational Principle: “We should divide the word of truth so as to make a distinction where God makes a difference.”
    • The Predictive Principle
    • The Application Principle: “An application of truth may be made only after the correct interpretation has been made”
    • The Principle of Human Willingness in Illumination
    • The Context Principle: “God gives light upon a subject through either near or remote passages bearing upon the same subject.”

    I would guess Scofield would be a prime example of “Dispensational” hermeneutics. It would seem that most cofC would come more closely under “Covenant” and “New Covenant” umbrellas with a large dose of “Christo-centric” and “Context” added to the mix. Simplistic is not in the discussion, therefore my request for a better term — less prejudicial. BTW — we don’t see “Grand Narrative” in the list, perhaps that is why some call it a New Hermeneutic.

    Here is one narrative based presentation “Narrative Art in the Bible” — Shimon Bar-Efrat
    A&C Black, Jan 1, 1989

    Enough for one post . . . . Did not intend to “strike a nerve.”

  17. Dwight says:

    One of the truths John F is that not every one had the scriptures at hand and most of the time it was read to the populace, who then took what they heard back home and applied it. Sometimes they wrote it on the things around their homes if they thought it was important, because writing paper was hard to come by. Such is why the people listened to the scribes, the Jewish leaders, etc. who had copies of the law and were supposed to teach that, except they did more.
    In the synagogue the people would come in, sit down and then be given the scripture and they would read from it and then they would sit down. Discussion would come afterwards on what was read. In this format they read the scriptures as written, more like a story and less like an owner’s manual. They didn’t do text searches and they didn’t need to seek Greek/Latin word translations. Teaching didn’t involve searching through all of the books of the Gospel and correlating evidence for a three point sermon. The Pharisees and such fell into their problems because they wanted to define points and filter the word for the people…sound familiar…preachers. We might could avoid a lot of our problems if we just read and listen and then apply. Of course then we might need to read Greek or Latin or Hebrew.

  18. JohnF says:

    Thank you, Dwight. Biblical texts in the hands of the populace was opposed by the church of Rome — “can’t entrust them with it.” Some were put to death for daring to suggest the “boy at the plow” would know more scripture than the pope” (Tyndale burned at the stake). . . . Truly the greatest advancement in the knowledge of scripture is Gutenburg’s press and now the Internet. It would seem major cultural changes occur at 500 year intervals. @500 CE (I prefer not “Common Era”, but “Christ’s Emergence” and BCE “Before Christ’s Emergence” — just my poke at humanistic attempts to change the dialogue) Western Rome falls, @1000 Islamic Caliphate falls (979); @1500 Gutenburg and reformation, @2000 Internet explosion. Wonder shat it will be @2500?

  19. Mark says:

    Psalm 19, v7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. JPS Tanakh

    The Law of the LORD is perfect, restoring life. The testimony of the LORD is steadfast, making foolish people wise. ISV

  20. Andrew says:

    What do you think about multiple layers of meaning in a biblical text? How do you find them if they exist? Which ones are authoritative for us? How do you decide?

  21. Dwight says:

    I am doing a study on Christian Prime Directives or what a saint is called to do after they become a saint, because they are a saint. I am pulling from Acts 2:42 “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers”, which gives examples of what the saints did after their conversion. One of them was “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine” and doctrine means teaching. Now I am pretty sure that if we follow this, we will look to the scriptures for the apostles teachings. And from what we are told the apostles teachings were inspired and often as Jesus taught, so we should follow Jesus teachings as well.
    The only thing missing here is “follow the teachers” or ” follow those who teach the apostles doctrine or the doctrine taught”. They followed the apostles teachings.
    My conclusion: We should follow the scriptures and that takes reading….personal reading
    It doesn’t take someone telling us their opinion of the scriptures, although that doesn’t hurt and sometimes helps, but in the end it is us and the scriptures.
    In fact we are told Gal.1:8 “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”
    So our teacher are the writings, the truth are the scriptures, everything else is just commentary.
    Meditate means reading and thinking.
    Now commentary is great and very helpful, but it shouldn’t decide for us, because commentary can also be wrong.

  22. Andrew says:

    You’re comment reminded me of a story about a preacher who had come to town to hold a meeting. While in town, he was staying with one of the prominent members of the church. One evening before services, the preacher came in to find the man of the house reading a commentary along with his Bible. The preacher scolded him harshly and said, “you only need the teaching of God’s word – no more, no less!” As the time approached to leave for the church building, the man of the house remained in his work clothes still resting on his couch with his bible in hand. He was making no attempt to prepare himself for services. The preacher asked, “Why aren’t you ready? Aren’t you going tonight?” To which the man replied, “I don’t need anybody telling me what to think, I’ve got the Bible. Have a good evening preacher!”

  23. dwight says:

    Andrew…true. Although we need people, unfortunately the center of the assembly has been handed over to the preacher time and not the people time.

  24. Andrew says:

    Should this discussion reappear as part of the church’s decision to peruse a small group ministry? E.g – theology in the hands of the people?

  25. Alabama John says:

    Andrew, that is already being done and that is why so many churches are dwindling.

  26. Andrew says:

    Alabama John,

    Can you explain further? Why are churches dwindling when pursuing small group ministry?

  27. Alabama John says:


    The small groups discussing God and His grace, mercy, and other things they have believed rather than law are breaking down the old ways of what they were taught.

    The COC were made up of hard working people, union members like United Mine Workers, etc. They only had high school educations at best so they believed and were led to believe the more educated preachers that attended the exclusive COC colleges knew more than they did. Most even respected and believed even more so the higher the college degree from those colleges the better they understood God and their ability to tell us and lead us in what we should do or not do.
    To go against that education and knowledge provided by so well spoken of, respected professors was thought foolish no matter how much you studied alone or with others like you that didn’t have that education. Going it alone would be looked down on as not being able to decipher the right commands. Some that would be preaching even had Doctorates. Can’t compare to that!

    Many things required by those highly educated COC members to be correct are now not even required or practiced anymore so that has cast doubt on the COC educated and the colleges that provided it. Neither have that reverent respect anymore, and some even resent them and the hard earned money they sent to support them.

    WE’ll stand before God alone to answer and be judged so why not go it alone in study and obedience and love of God. That is the theme today.

  28. Dwight says:

    I would argue that churches are dwindling, but rather the church is re proportioning itself from large institutional assembles to smaller family-like assemblies.
    Andrew, this scenario you present is seen in all churches…Baptist…Methodist..etc., and not just the coC. The educated or elite always “know” more than the people in the pew and the people in the pew largely accept this and don’t try to change this situation.
    Now I am not against preachers, just that they are misplaced. They should largely be out in the world preaching to the alien sinners who have never heard the gospel and minimally in the assembly. The examples of preaching in the assemblies was seen in the large gatherings and not in the home gatherings and was done mostly by the apostles or those the apostles had laid their hands on and appointed. This was to get to the word that we now hold in our hands.

  29. JohnF says:

    Andrew asks: “JohnF,
    What do you think about multiple layers of meaning in a biblical text? How do you find them if they exist? Which ones are authoritative for us? How do you decide?”

    I posit that there is a primary meaning in each pericope. I see Jesus comment about speaking in parables: Matt 13:13-17 “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 “In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND;YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 15 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL,WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR,AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES,OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES,HEAR WITH THEIR EARS,AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN,AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’ 16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 “For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. NASU)

    Jesus was speaking about those whose eyes and ears were closed, choosing not to hear. John in Revelation 13:17 has cryptic language. The allegorical hermeneutic sought to find hidden meanings everywhere — leading to a greatly flawed view and rampant speculation.

    Milton Jones (The Other Side of the Keyboard) finds “a different hermeneutic…that I liked better.” This leads Milton to state the view that it “open(s) the doors for a great deal of subjectivity in interpreting the Scriptures.” If we are to look for a “new hermeneutic” should we seek a hermeneutic that honors the Divine word rather than something we “like better?” The question is not, “Do I like it better” but “Is this understanding Biblically sound, true, and authentic. Does God like it better?”

    In my view (and I emphasize “MY VIEW) any interpretation that does not honor the apostolic authority and example (for which there is ample Scriptural evidence) is suspect. They were given directions and instruction directly by Christ (Acts 1:3) and spent their lives implementing His directions — they knew (firsthand) how to “do” church (if you can “do church”) much better than we. So in answer to your question Andrew, “We look into the scripture, find in there the principles and practices that honor that authority.” Does that result in specific clarity that we would want? No, but still the desire and intent has some guidance. There continue to be questions of application that I “struggle” with, but not with my desire to be Biblically sound, true, and authentically submissive. As I have repeatedly pointed out, a submissive spirit is a key understanding.

  30. Dwight says:

    JohnF, what I find in this “The question is not, “Do I like it better” but “Is this understanding Biblically sound, true, and authentic. Does God like it better?” is that we think we have THE understanding and not just AN understanding and since we have THE understanding, then we are the voice of God. We perceive that since we KNOW better that God DOEs like it better.
    There is no sense of humility in our readings and teachings.
    I am glad you brought Matt.13 forward. One of the important things it says is, “SEE WITH THEIR EYES,HEAR WITH THEIR EARS,AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN”, this is not about getting the doctrine perfect, but rather seeking God and being led to God by the scriptures. This is the goal of the scriptures. It is not about understanding hermeneutics, but about understanding God.
    vs. 17 is telling, “prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it.”
    The apostles were largely uneducated people, but because they had Jesus and sought the things that Jesus taught and followed Jesus, they were better than the “prophets and righteous men” and these were good people. It is better to not just speak of God, but to see God and seek God.
    The thing about the parables is that the meanings weren’t deeply hidden, but just below the surface, so all you had to do was think about it with an open mind and there it was. Parables were made to reveal truths in common, well-known analogies.

  31. JohnF says:

    Dwight, I am confident that we are in agreement here — humility is inherent in submission. Anyone who has all the answers has not heard / considered all the questions. And yet, some are so “open minded” that there is nothing in between to allow a cogent thought to remain.

  32. Dwight says:

    JohnF, agreed.

  33. Andrew says:


    I’m, too, am glad that you brought up Matthew 13 as it illustrates the point I was trying to make. If a biblical text only has primary meaning, did Isaiah’s words as recorded in Isaiah 6:9-10 have no meaning at all until their “fulfillment” in the time of Christ? Or should we ask if Isaiah’s text have some meaning before Jesus and then Jesus gave it its fullest meaning?

    What about Hosea 11:1 (ESV) “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” This had one meaning before Jesus and quite another one after Jesus. (cf. Matt. 2:15 …This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”)

    I think you could make the case that the Pharisees, who were not exegetical idiots, didn’t see Jesus as the Christ because of their hermeneutics. They didn’t see how the the hope of Israel could be found in weakness and how redemption could come through suffering, not power. Indeed many Jews, after the resurrection, couldn’t turn to God in Jesus because of his crucifixion – (cursed are those hung on a tree). Jews were not always blinded to God because of selfish ambition, they were blinded, sometimes, by their hermeneutics.

    Also, I think you could argue that the Pharisaic hermeneutic was, at times, simplistic. For example, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” – therefore, No crucified Messiah. That is to say, sometimes a simplistic hermeneutic can blind one to the real truth of the scripture.

  34. Dwight says:

    Andrew, you make some good points. In fact Jesus kind of argues this when he chides the scribes and Pharisees in thinking the scripture was their savior, and thus rejected God. Then those same people got onto Jesus for doing good on the Sabbath. Technically no work was supposed to be done on the Sabbath, but Jesus did work…good work. Jesus argued that the technicality of the law didn’t oppose the spirit of doing good. This is one of our problems is that we read the technical aspects and leave out the purpose or spirit of the aspect. Jesus didn’t really brake the law, because he knew the law, he just didn’t let the technical outweigh the meaning behind it.
    To Paul the new Christians were heretics, because they called one who called himself God their God, even though the Jews were looking for God to come down and save them…exactly what Jesus did, but not they way the imagined. If this same Jesus would have destroyed Rome and reestablished the Jewish land and the Jewish might, they would have [probably called him God.

    I would argue that sometimes the passages are so simple, that we attach meaning where no meaning exist. I know many who read “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” to mean that the seed is Jesus, but then again did Satan really bruise Jesus heal. A literal meaning would be that the serpent who is now going around on the ground, will cause pain and receive pain as well from people. Now it could be applied both ways, but then again when did a snake hurt Jesus, as God is cursing the serpent animal, otherwise Satan is now going around on his belly.

    My thought- we must be flexible when reading the scriptures, not putting all our understanding in one basket and allowing other possibilities to fall out or not get in. The Pharisees and scribes were not wrong in all things in regards to the scriptures, but the things they were wrong in had to deal with their pressing of the traditions as scriptures as well and their sectarian nature as the “Holy handlers”. Sometimes we have a lot in common with them.

  35. JohnF says:

    A fresh perspective courtesy of Biblical Archeology Review (they don’t find a “simplistic” hermeneutic either.

    For as long as there have been Biblical texts, there have been Biblical hermeneutics, or Biblical interpretations. One definition of hermeneutics (given by Bernhard W. Anderson in a piece he wrote for Bible Review) is that Biblical hermeneutics are “modes of [Bible] interpretation[s].” In another Bible Review article, James A. Sanders offered a Biblical hermeneutics definition as “interpretive lens[es]” through which one reads the Bible. Going a step further, the Merriam-Webster dictionary extends its hermeneutics definition to include not only the methods or principles of the interpretations but also the study of those very Biblical interpretations. In short, the hermeneutics of the Bible are the many ways people read the Bible.
    Biblical hermeneutics even take place within the Biblical text itself. In the Hebrew Bible, the authors of the Psalms and the prophets often referred back to the Torah and incorporated their own interpretations and understanding of the text from their social locations
    In the years leading up to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., several different Jewish groups had risen to prominence, including the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes. Although they were all Jewish, each group had very different Biblical hermeneutics. Definition of what happened to the soul after death, proper temple sacrifice and the importance of studying the law differed among these groups because of their varying approaches. Christianity also began as a Jewish sect, but as Jesus’ followers developed their own hermeneutics in relation to the law and the role of the messiah, it became a distinct religion.
    Today there are many hermeneutics applied to the Bible. These methodologies range from historical-critical, to post-colonial, to rhetorical, to cultural-critical, to ecological to canonical-critical. These are all types of Biblical hermeneutics. Part of the reason that so many hermeneutics exist is that interpreters have different goals. For example, if you want to understand how Moses’s life in the wilderness differed from daily life in the ancient Levant, you would use an archaeological/anthropological hermeneutic. However, if you want to understand the gender politics between Miriam and Moses in the wilderness, you would use a feminist or womanist approach to the text. Different hermeneutics lead to different types of interpretations. Cheryl Exum famously wrote two articles on Exodus 1-2:10 focusing on the women in the narrative. Her conclusions in these articles appear contradictory, but that is because she used two different hermeneutics (rhetorical and feminist) and each method focused on different elements of the text, which led to different interpretations of the text.

    Even archaeology, which is the focus of BAR, is a Biblical hermeneutic. By studying the remains of ancient people and how they lived, and comparing their finds to the texts, archaeologists are able to offer exciting new interpretations. For example, the sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most interpreted stories throughout history. The disturbing narrative about a God who orders his follower to sacrifice his son, but ultimately withdraws this command at the final moment, has caused great discomfort in readers for several reasons. Many of these reasons revolve around the modern revulsion regarding child sacrifice. The world of archaeology provides insight into the practice (or non-practice) of sacrifice in the ancient world, as well as the hilltop altars, which appear in the story.
    There are many ways in which you can approach the text, and your method will determine your interpretation. It is important then to be transparent about what is essential to you as a reader and recognize how that impacts the interpretations that you develop. Your interpretive goal will ultimately determine your Biblical hermeneutic.

  36. JohnF says:

    And coutresy of BAR’s Leonard J. Greenspoon

    If you are truly interested in what the writers of the Bible wrote, first read the text itself (in its original languages or in a translation that you find suitable for your purposes). Commentary, whether faith-based or secular, is useful, often obligatory for full understanding of a Biblical passage or concept. But, in my view, there is no substitute for—or shortcut to—a reader’s direct engagement with the text. It is for this reason that I prefer for my students to begin with a Biblical text as “naked” as possible; that is, with no or only a few footnotes or marginal notes. In my experience, too many people resort to the notes instead of trying first to work out a textual or exegetical problem on their own.

    This procedure does not lead to unanimity of opinion, but, then again, I don’t think that is what the writers of the Bible sought. When carefully read, many Biblical passages encourage, or perhaps even demand, active interaction with their readers, who should always be open to surprise, dismay and on occasion (I hope) encouragement.
    Reading the Biblical text itself then is the beginning of Biblical literacy. Someone who never does this is Biblical illiterate, no matter what else he/she does or what facts he/she knows.
    There are, I suppose, at least two ends toward which Biblical literacy points. The first is the acquisition of insights based on reading the text, supplemented by commentaries of all sorts. The second is the incorporation of these insights into our lives, individually and communally.
    I do not have THE answer as to how to accomplish these two ends or goals, which in my view are complementary. All serious discussion of the Bible—positive, negative and all points in between—must be anchored in a reading of the text itself, which constitutes the appropriate context for all subsequent analysis, interpretation and application of the text. Those who enter into discussion informed in this way are Biblically literate—no matter how we measure it. Those who do not are, simply put, Biblically illiterate.

    Enough said?

  37. Dwight says:

    JohnF, I totally agree with BAR’s Leonard J. Greenspoon’s assessment.
    Our Prime Directive as a saint is following the Jesus and the apostles teaching (scriptures), not the teaching of others who filter and disseminate the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to us.
    The basic coC hermeneutic is CENI, which has its problems, especially in the ENI part. But our biggest problem is attempting to preach people into heaven, instead of people learning about God through reading and applying the scriptures themselves. Heaven is the reward, God is the goal.

  38. Dwight says:

    JohnF. I have to ask where your quote comes from…what work? Thanks.

  39. Andrew says:

    Could I ask what goal you were trying to accomplish with your last post? (Which seems to be a cut-n-paste from here)

  40. Dwight says:

    The one thing I think is that although we bring our own interpretation to the party, we are called on to look through God’s eyes when examining the scriptures, which should make our personal interpretation less impactfull.

  41. Andrew says:


    If we take humility out of our heremeneutic, we cease to have a heremeneutic and we start having an agenda. I have yet to figure out completely what that agenda is, but I bet we’ve all got a copy of the minutes and no one can remember the motion to adjourn.

    Even if we, as you say “look through God’s eyes”, I fear there will still be brethren who will try to dictate what it means to look through God’s eyes. There is a delicate balance here that can only be found, I think, in the community of faith and in productive conversations.

    Interestingly enough, one of the reasons I like this blog – Thanks Jay

  42. JohnF says:

    Andrew . . . . as attributed, the quote was from BAR as you found. I sought to emphasize his point about the “lens” through we we view scripture — our conclusions are vastly different if we see scripture as God’s revealed will or merely a collection of well attested ANE documents.

  43. Andrew says:

    I agree with you there – I believe the Bible to be the church’s book – it belongs to those of faith. It doesn’t make much sense as an ANE document library.

    Interestingly, in the article you provided, the author mentioned several different hermeneutical strategies that one could take and still approach it through faith as the will of God. Who’s to say which approach is valid? Do they not all have their merits?

  44. Monty says:

    The Story is what’s important. For hundreds of years the average man or woman on the street didn’t have a Bible they could go to and read. But could they still have faith? I believe they could, even though there wasn’t a written document for them to go by and be “right” on every little whim of teaching. People believed on Jesus as Savior and Lord even if they didn’t know there wasn’t any scripture teaching Popeship.

  45. Alabama John says:


    You have said what I believe and have tried to say all along. Thank you!

    In many ways, King James did us no favor in picking books and printing them as THE bible as it has caused so much separation, disagreement and arguing among us.

    Those throughout the ages that simply worshiped God in His three persons (notice that included Jesus) had a much better worship than we do as it was out of love and obedience to the natural good things and not law which we over the years have made us look and be very foolish in many ways. Those laws are plainly seen in how many absolutely necessary laws, commands, to be right with God and to obtain salvation and heaven required to save us have been erased as wrong.

    The one standing out more in my mind as it was so obvious was the women wearing coverings. If a woman visitor came to our service, she was loaned a handmade covering so she wouldn’t be sinning for all to see in our services. I’ve seen women asked to leave who wouldn’t wear one.

  46. dwight says:

    While I do believe in the covering for women, I also believe in short hair for men…both are considered in I Cor.11. But I believe this is a personal issue and not a church issue. The concept of the covering as noted in I Cor.11:1-3 is in relation to headship, not churchship.
    But this issue brings about the worst contradiction in the coC where many coCs believe that it is sinful, while other coC do not and yet they still overlook this between them, then when we get to other issues that are less disputable and unclear they cannot for some reason be overcome in like manner.

    I don’t believe that the dispersion of the word has caused “separation, disagreement and arguing among us.”
    I believe it is us who have caused this by nit-picking as the Pharisees, Jewish leaders did.
    The word was somewhat accessible through the synagogues.
    The word is a good thing, but the word in the hands of a few who believe they are the word givers is not. If the word is out there, then it needs to be in everyone hands so they can access it. The problem is most depend on the preachers and teachers to make their minds up for them.

  47. JohnF says:

    One of my college professors (Delane Way) saw the (pick your word) value / necessity / example / command of head covering as remaining. His wife (now widow) stills wears a head covering. I have not asked her (now 1960 miles between us) if she does so to honor Delane’s memory and values or if it also her own continuing conviction. But is was his conviction (that he did not seek to enforce on others) and there must certainly be a place among us for those who seek to honor their convictions. The problems most commonly arise when we seek to enforce a personal conviction on others — and even worse, condemn them when they will not yield to OUR conviction — even “worser” when one “postures” as the “weaker brother” to advance his particular conviction.

  48. JohnF says:

    And Dwight — I think we would agree that “Men should look like men and women should look like women.” In a current society dealing with “gender confusion” we should recognize that most commonly it is a psychological, not a physiological phenomenon.

  49. dwight says:

    While I think there is sense in men looking like men and women looking like women, I don’t think that is the sense of I Cor.11 a it posits with headship between Go/Jesus/man/womanand then leads to honor and dishonor and then nature. If there is a sense of anything it I honoring those of the headship which reflects the headship of Jesus and God and it is strange when it argues for that and we miss the obvious presenting statements.

  50. JohnF says:

    How is that headship to be expressed in the way we present ourselves to God? I think it Wm. Ramsay who has a good discussion (based on coinage) on the “coverings of the ANE.

  51. Andrew says:

    Since we got on the topic of head coverings, this podcast episode is probably one of the best treatments of the head covering issue that I’ve heard in some time. When you’ve got an hour to spare – check it out. I can almost bet you’ve never heard it like this before.

    Naked Bible Podcast, Episode 86 – “The Head Covering of 1 Corinthians 11:13-15”

  52. Andrew says:

    And by the way, as Dr. Heiser (on the podcast) works through the 1 Cor. 11 text and the head covering issue – I think he models an interesting and valid hermeneutic.

  53. dwight says:

    JohnF, sometimes we purposely make the scriptures harder than they are written because we want to avoid the obvious. Put it this way, we read in Acts 2:38 what must we do? and Peter responds “repent and be baptized”, so we see a progression of thought and it is not hard to connect the dots. When we get to this one section of scripture we argue over different thoughts instead of just reading it as Paul wrote it and they would have read it. What is amazing to me is that the most read, embraced and applied scripture I Cor.17-34 is before the least read, excused and applied vs.1-16. It is amazing that we would have to find external evidence in order to understand this scripture, as the message was unclear until a coin showed us the way.

  54. Alabama John says:

    Why do we, the coC not have any public debates among ourselves like we used to?
    They were very interesting and informative. Both sides used the same bible and scriptures to prove their opposing points that in most cases were believed to be heaven or hell based.
    Last I heard there were 30 or so differently believing coC.
    WE, all of us, have gone wrong in some way for there to be so much arguing, separation, and disagreement.
    The bible is not at fault, we are and this is why so many are leaving.
    Too many colleges teaching differently from one another and calling, like our preachers from those colleges do, those in disagreement with each teachings, “Our liberal brethren”, “Our denominational friends”, and “our erring brethren”.
    Until we change and get together instead of dividing, we will be held responsible somehow as its woe to the false teacher.

  55. JohnF says:

    Andrew, I read your linked article. It seems strange to enforce a meaning on the language of the NT from an example hundreds of years before, then one from hundreds of years after the autograph.

    peribolaion: properly, a covering thrown around, a wrapper; in the N. T.

    1. a mantle: Heb 1:12 (Ps 101:27 (102:27 ); Ezek 16:13; 27:7; Isa 59:17;

    2. a veil (A. V. a covering): 1 Cor 11:15. ((From Euripides down.))

    Not a single lexicon I can find would allow the unusual meaning the article seeks to project.

  56. Andrew says:


    A few things –
    1. It’s not my article – I didn’t write it. Did you listen to the podcast too, or just read the JBL article?

    2. I don’t think defining Greek words is as simple as looking it up in Thayers or BDAG. The Author of the JBL article, Troy Martin, has done his semantic homework on that word. If all he research could be be flushed away by a simple look up in Thayers, I doubt he would have been published in a peer reviewed journal – especially JBL.

    3. Did you check Lidell & Scott’s?

    περιβόλαιον, τό, (περίβαλλω) that which is thrown round, a covering, θανάτου περιβόλαια corpse-clothes, Eur.; π. σαρκὸς ἡβῶντα youthful incasements of flesh, i.e. youth, manhood, Id.: a chariot-cover, Plut.

    H.G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 624.

    4. Your comment exemplifies what is wrong with a simplistic heremeneutic – dismiss it, instantly, if the hypothesis seems odd as first look.

    5. Agree or disagree, the hypothesis is worthy of being in the discussion. At least as worthy as the divisive opinions many of the cofC have held in the past.

  57. Andrew says:


    A few things.
    1. It’s not MY article – I didn’t write it. Did you listen to the podcast too, or just read the JBL article by Troy Martin?

    2. I don’t think defining Greek words is as simple as looking it up in Thayers or BDAG. Troy Martin has done his semantic domain homework on this word in question. If all his research could be flushed down the drain by a simple look up in Thayers, I doubt he would have been published in a peer reviewed scholarly journal – especially JBL.

    3. Did you check Lidell and Scott’s?

    “…that which is thrown round, a covering, corpse-clothes, youthful incasements of flesh, i.e. youth, manhood…”

    H.G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 624.

    4. Your comment exemplifies what is wrong with a simplistic hermeneutic: It at first glance the hypothesis seems odd, reject it at once.

    5. Agree or disagree, I think this hypothesis deserves to be in the discussion – at least as much as the divisive opinions many in the cofC have held in the past.

  58. dwight says:

    I wrote my understanding of I Cor.11and if anyone wishes to critique it I will send it to them and I have tried to cover all angle of it, except the angle covered in Naked Bible Podcast, Ep.86.

    It appears that this isn’t the only place this word “peribolaion” was used as JohnF also notes and the alternate theory of Ep.86 doesn’t make sense in this passage. And it has word relation to “periballō” which is seen in many passages in the scriptures:Matt.6:31 “wear”; 25:36 “clothed me”; Mark 14:51 “thrown”, etc. It appears that this word of “peribolaion” was probably not limited to male genitalia, but was general and applied to anything that fit that description.

    My understanding of “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering”,
    most likely has to do with the fact that men suffer from a condition that robs them of hair, while women generally do not suffer this fate, as if nature itself is trying to enforce that women have long hair and men short hair. And why not…God created nature?
    It is thus a contradiction from my way of thinking that a woman tries to undo and reject what God has blessed her with. And if you are going to look for something that connects nature and hair you don’t have to look much further than hormones.

  59. Andrew says:

    I’d very much like to read your thoughts on the matter – not sure I want to critique it, but I’m always interested in new angles on things. I like your argument from nature idea and it may well fit within our time period. However, I wonder what arguments from nature looked like 1900 years ago when their conception of nature was so vastly different from ours. For example, did you catch that one part of the article/podcast that mentioned the Greek idea that hair was somehow related to reproduction? We don’t think like that anymore, thank goodness, but we don’t even think medically like we did 50 years ago.

    You can email me that essay here

  60. Andrew says:

    look like my fancy mailto tag didn’t work – thinking dot on dot these dot things AT gmail dot com (watch out for those spam bots lol)

  61. dwight says:

    Andrew, you can email me at: criticalchristianthinker@gmail.com
    and then I will send you the article.
    An anybody else as well.
    You can read it then let me know what you think or if you have any questions?
    Admittedly, I haven’t come across this above line of reasoning in the podcast, but then again I don’t think an apostle of God would be dealing in things in regards to nature that were outside of God and most of them, even Paul, were Jews who mostly thought in Jewish terms. This line of thinking in the podcast is not seen in the scriptures or in Jewish mythology from what I know and I have never come across it in my readings of the well known Greek and Roman writers. Anything on hair/coverings would have caught my eyes. What I do know is that Roman women who were wealthy often had their slaves braid their hair with jewelry to show status and wealth as reflected in the admonishment in I Tim.2:9.
    God Bless.

  62. Mark says:

    AJ, I think part of the reason we don’t have public debates is that they are now waged online. Only the debates are no longer over points made using certain verses but over the existence of God himself.

  63. Alabama John says:

    Mark, You are right.
    Also if we debated publicly the other side would bring up in our teaching the God we preach is not one of Love, Grace and Mercy.
    Seen at a debate on baptism with some denomination, the subject get changed to our Gods requirements throughout time to enter heaven and we and our take on God looked pretty bad and the sounds from the audience were negative.

  64. Alabama John says:

    There is a coC preacher in Franklin Tennessee that is on the right track with his thinking about Goats on a mountain ledge trail. Can’t remember his name! Lost his article.

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