November 30, 2020

Another Look: Elder Qualifications – Difficulties in Translation and Interpretation

ephesus-artemis-temple

Temple of Artemis, Ephesus

This was a favourite of mine from February 2014. All the original comments were lost. So we have a chance to have a brand new disussion.
I have been having a wonderful experience leading a small group through the Sermon on the Mount.  We got side tracked a couple of weeks ago when we started talking about how we interpret the Bible, and so we spent one evening going through Michael Patton’s Biblical Interpretation in a Nutshell.  

In short, Michael Patton shows how the process of interpreting starts with understanding what the text meant to the ancient audience, extracting the timeless truth being taught, and then applying that truth to our circumstances today.

This process is not without its pitfalls.  Many will read the same text and come to different conclusions as to its meaning to the ancient audience.  This of course then leads to a different formulation of the timeless truth, which then leads to a different application.

I would like to walk us through one passage which has had many different interpretations, in order to show how difficult this process can be, and to maybe give a slightly different take on the passage.

The passage that I would like to look at is 1 Timothy 3.  The list of qualifications for Elders and Deacons:

3 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

8 In the same way, deacons[b] are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, the women[c] are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

What you may not have realized is that I may have already influenced your understanding of this text.  How?  I called it a list of qualifications.  When we read this text in just about any translation we read a comma delimited list:  distinct items, separated by commas.

One of our problems in reading Koine Greek is that it has no punctuation.  So the translators have to supply it for us.  This can result in different understandings of the text.  For example, Bruce Metzger points out that in Revelation 5:1 the scroll held in the right hand of God can be understood as either “written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals” or “written on the inside, and sealed on the back with seven seals.”

Why is that important here?  What if the text in 1 Timothy 3 is not a list but a primary point with a series of secondary points?  What if we understand that the first phrase should not be followed by a comma, but a colon?

We would then read the start of verse two as:  “Now the overseer is to be above reproach:…”

Is the primary concern of this passage about being above reproach?

Several things tell me that in fact it is:

  1. The importance of being above reproach or its semantic equivalents is repeated over and over in the passage.  Above reproach (vs 2), worthy of full respect (vs 4), a good reputation with outsiders (vs 7), not fall into disgrace (vs 7), worthy of repect (vs 8), nothing against them (vs 10), worthy or respect (vs 11), trustworthy in everything (vs 11).

  2. The concept is the first one introduced in each of the first three sections.

  3. It also serves as a summary statement at the end of the first section.  That is, not only must the overseer be above reproach (inside the church) for all of the first set of items.  “7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace…”

  4. Opening and closing a section with a summary statement or parallel summary statements in stylistically quite common among Hebrew scriptural texts.  While Paul was not writing in Hebrew, he was well versed in the language.  (For those who have had to write essays for School, we do the same thing in our language.

  5. All of the items listed in this chapter could quite easily fall under the category of being “above reproach.”

  6. The context supports it.  Paul begins his instructions on behaviour in the previous chapter.  2:8:  “ Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”  The “therefore” here is very important.  As a seminary professor once said to our class, “Whenever you see a therefore, you need to find out what it is ‘there for’.  The reason for the therefore can be found in the first four verses of chapter 2.  “ I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

So if I was to summarize all of chapter two and chapter three into one summary timeless truth it would be this:  “God wants all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth so therefore…  you had better act in a way that is above reproach.”

When we do this, not only do the sub points become secondary, they are given clarity.

Let us look at the second item for example.   The Greek is literally “of one woman, a man”.  Translators have a great difficulty with this one.  Consider these:

  • Faithful to his wife (NIV)

  • The husband of one wife (KJV) (ESV) (ASV) (NET)

  • Married only once (NRSV)

  • Be faithful in marriage (CEV)

  • Committed to his wife (The Message)

  • He must have only one wife (The Living Bible)

  • A one woman kind of guy (Seminary professor translation)

You will note that the translations vary in their emphasis.  Some are very male centric, some try to balance the idea of maleness with the idea of faithfulness, and some completely make the text gender neutral.  Some focus on the concept of “one” wife, while that emphasis is dropped from other translations.

It is no wonder then that interpretations and application are all over the board.  Interpretations range from:

  • Elders must be men.

  • Elders must be married (and therefore not single, divorced or widowed.)

  • Elders must be married to one person (As opposed to multiple people. This issue has come up in African situations that I am aware of.)

  • Elders cannot be remarried (whether widowed or divorced)

To:

  • Gender and marital status is not what is being discussed here.

  • It is about the type of person you are in relationship commitments.

  • Elder’s must be faithful to their significant other.

What I would argue here is that all these interpretations fail to see the proverbial forest for the trees.  The timeless truth that is being communicated has to do with the importance of being above reproach, but more specifically, being above reproach so that it does not become a hindrance to the gospel. (God…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.)  The question we need to ask ourselves then is not so much what it meant to above reproach so not to hinder the gospel in the ancient culture (although that has some bearing), but what it means to above reproach so not to hinder the gospel now.

Let us take the issue of whether or not the intent was to restrict eldership to men.  In that culture would women in that leadership position have been a reproachable hindrance to the gospel?  Quite possibly.

I have not touched on historical/cultural issues here, but here is a quick quiz for you?

  1. Where was Timothy when 1 Timothy was written?

  2. What do we know from scripture about this location?

  3. What do we know from other sources about this location?

  4. How might that impact our understanding of this passage?

Short Answers:

  1. Ephesus.

  2. Acts 19:21-41.  Ephesus housed the Temple of the Goddess Artemis.

  3. The temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and had tremendous influence in the region.

  4. This can impact our understanding of the passage in many ways.  One of the best books on the subject is:  Paul, Women Teachers and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus: A Study of First Timothy 2: 9-15 in Light of the Religious and Cultural Milieu of the First Century.  It is out of print and hard to find, but worth the hunt.  (The picture by the way is that of the Goddess Artemis)

If we are to properly apply this passage we must ask a slightly different question:  What does being above reproach for the sake of the gospel mean in our society today?  How would it apply to our elders?   Would restricting eldership to men be above reproach and help to advance the gospel, or would it be reproachable and serve to hinder the gospel?  I would argue that the latter is true, and that restricting women from leadership positions is now considered very reproachable, and I have personally seen how it has hindered the gospel.  In this case, because of the timeless truth that is being communicated, our application might be very different to the first century application.  Not being faithful to your partner, on the other hand could be considered just as reproachable and a hindrance to the gospel today as it was in the time of Paul and Timothy.

There is so much more that I could say on this topic and I have just begun to scratch the surface.  I am very interested in how my ideas resonate with you.  Let the (cordial) debate begin!

Final note: I do need to give credit to Miguel Ruiz, as the idea for this topic came from a facebook discussion that we had on a facebook post he had made. His perspective may differ.

Comments

  1. senecagriggs says

    I’m hard pressed to think of a thriving church that a woman has founded/built from the ground up. Men do that.

    • As a statistician might say, you obviously need to expand your sample size.

      • senecagriggs says

        Well Eeyore if you can think of a church founded/built by a woman that is a thriving church, I’d love to hear about it. Nadia Bolz Webber has left the church she founded.

        You do see, in the black community, small churches founded/built by a woman. My sense is, they’re generally relatively small/tiny and don’t have much staying power.

        Conservative Evangelical theology says God gave us men and women, equal value before God but built for generally different roles.

        If history is any guide, God didn’t build women to found/build/pastor churches. In the mainline, there are certainly a lot of females occupying the pulpit but the Mainline hasn’t exactly been thriving under it’s women leaders and the women have been placed into existing churches. They’re not building them.

        So you can argue for senior women pastors BUT inevitably they have been placed the in role by others.

        [ By the way, I’ve thought for some years that Chaplain Mike’s church is extraordinarily lucky to have him.]

    • Michael Bell says

      I am reminded of the two shoe salesmen going to Africa in the 1800s.

      Salesperson #1 – No point opening a factory here. No one wears shoes.

      Salesperson #2 – The opportunities here are endless. No one wears shoes.

    • Clay Crouch says

      How about the current lame duck president’s very own personal minister, Paula White-Cain?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        She comes under the mantle of Divine Trump.
        (And I would not be surprised if she comes “with benefits(TM)”.)

      • senecagriggs says

        Clay, I did a very brief Google search because I actually thought about her. I can’t guarantee it but in the recesses of my mind, I think she once had a husband; they were co-pastors. The marriage ended, she inherited the church but has, in the last couple of years, passed it on to her son.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Echoing that radio preacher from my time in-country who yelled “EVERY CULT WAS STARTED BY A WOMAN!!!!!“

    • –> “I’m hard pressed to think of a thriving church that a woman has founded/built from the ground up. Men do that.”

      Most cultures – maybe all – have never allowed women to do that. Also, the men who’ve built “thriving churches” have often been the ones who screw them up.

      Maybe it’s time to let women give it a go.

      • senecagriggs says

        They have tried Rick; Nobody stops you from trying to build a church. ANYBODY can attempt to build a church. Nobody will stop you.

        The Nazarenes, generally a fairly conservative group, have a history of appointing women to senior pastorates. I don’t know how it’s worked out. As I’ve said, black women give it a go all the time. It’s kinda of an interesting dynamic.

  2. Iain Lovejoy says

    “Husband of one wife” = must be a man and married.
    “Dogs must be carried on the escalator” = you are not allowed on the escalator without a dog.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > Koine Greek is that it has no punctuation

    This will never cease to amaze me. How is writing even possible without punctuation?

    Writing & especially reading must have depended on conventions to a phenomenal degree. Conventions are fragile and fraught.

    Knowing there was no punctuation, and learning other aspects of language, greatly diminished my confidence in any reading of the text – – – especially when it is used in snippets.

    Imagine attempting to write a Chilton’s Engine Repair manual with no punctuation? Then giving it to some aspiring mechanics and saying “Rebuild this engine”. That engine would never run again.

    • “How is writing even possible without punctuation?”

      Possibly because it’s probably meant more to be spoken than read. Hearing it read by someone who heard it from an authoritative speaker would probably convey lots of nuance that written words alone could not convey.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Making them more Meeting Minutes than Narrative.

        Beware interpreting meeting minutes from a meeting you did not attend.

    • Greek doesn’t need punctuation the same way English does. The grammatical constructions and syntax are different and they function pretty well to clue one in to how things fit together. One word in greek may take three words to translate accurately into English.

      Does it present problems for translation? Sure, but that is often because of the quirks of the language it’s being translated into.

      Not saying it’s perfect, but it’s less of a problem than you might think.

    • Imagine attempting to write a Chilton’s Engine Repair manual with no punctuation?

      Sure. A problem. But one they didn’t have. The constructs they deal with in daily and even through out their lives were so much simpler than what we deal with today. The details of hooking up a new TV to a new cable connection would be more information in so many ways than someone in ancient Greece might see in a month or year.

  4. There is a serious flaw in using society to gauge what is or is not above reproach. What if we lived in a society where not being a lover of money was looked down upon? Or where not engaging in regular drunkenness was scorned? Or where fidelity to one’s spouse was seen as ignorant and backwards? In the New Testament greed, drunkenness, and adultery are presented as sin. Should we change that standard if it makes it harder for people to believe in the gospel? I would be careful about using society as the gauge for what being above reproach means. Simple living a godly life can bring scorn from some people.
    So what does it mean to have a good reputation with society? For one thing, when talking about elders in a specific church the society that we need to be concerned about is the one closet to the church. We live in a world now where people who live 500 miles apart cast judgment on one another over the internet without really knowing each other. I don’t care what Bob in California thinks about Bill in Indiana regarding his belief about women in ministry. I do care if Bill’s neighbors consider him honest, kind, and a good family man if he has a family. If his neighbors view him as actually practicing what he preaches, then in my view that is a good reputation with outsiders.

    • “What if we lived in a society where not being a lover of money was looked down upon? Or where not engaging in regular drunkenness was scorned? Or where fidelity to one’s spouse was seen as ignorant and backwards? In the New Testament greed, drunkenness, and adultery are presented as sin. Should we change that standard if it makes it harder for people to believe in the gospel? I would be careful about using society as the gauge for what being above reproach means. Simple living a godly life can bring scorn from some people.”

      You hit the nail on the head. Cultural accommodation is fine up to a point – unleavened wheat bread vs leavened rye bread vs manioc loaf, holy kiss vs hug vs handshake vs elbow bump, ad infinitum. But when a cultural norm contradicts the message of the Gospel – in this case, the dignity of those looked down upon by society, and the reservation of leadership to a select elite – that must be confronted and damn the cost.

  5. “In that culture would women in that leadership position have been a reproachable hindrance to the gospel? Quite possibly.”

    Then to hell with the culture. Sometimes culture must be confronted, not coddled.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Sometimes culture must be confronted, not coddled.

      It is possible to do both; and that is typically the only successful approach.

      As a wise man once said to me: “Do you want to be Right, or have a Result?”

      The word for the successful approach is “politics”.

  6. Iain Lovejoy says

    Griggsian logic: forbidding women leadership roles in the church is justified by the absence of examples of women doing that which they are forbidden to do.

    In any event, it’s wrong.
    – The early church had congregations organised and led by women.
    – Montanism, two out of three of which’s founders were women and which allowed women leaders, had women successfully founding churches, including Quintilla, who founded an entire sect:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quintilla
    – In the regular church, women, being allowed to do this, have founded religious orders and abbeys and lay church institutions throughout its history.
    – The Salvation Army, the Quakers and many Methodist denominations have permitted women preachers for centuries, with successful and popular women leaders, and I do not know of any suggestion that they have been any less successful than the men. The Salvation Army has been several times headed by a woman.
    – Those Protestant denominations that have (generally since the 1980s or later) permitted women into leadership roles have not, as far as I am aware, experienced any more difficulty with women founding and leading congregations than men.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      “””forbidding women leadership roles in the church is justified by the absence of examples of women doing that which they are forbidden to do””” is not the point of the text in question.

      Also, could that text be addressing the perceptions of the author and/or receivers? Regardless of if that perception was true. Even if that perception was wrong at the time it does not change the point of the post which is that the details in the center are parameters within the encompassing assertion.

    • In Philippians Paul wants Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences, Then he goes on to say, “These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans—worked as hard as any of us.” (The Message)

      Given that statement I think it likely that Euodia and Syntyche were church planters.

      There’s also evidence in Acts and the epistles that women indeed were leaders of congregations. One of my gripes with many of our translations is that when the feminine form (prostatis) of proistemai is translated the translators often render prostatis as “succourer” or “prominent women” or “helper” instead of “leader”–one who stands in front. In Pauline churches women were as likely to “lead” as men. Heck, Junia (Rom. 16) was considered “of/among the Apostles. Translational bias exist.

      I’ve known several women pastors. Each was exemplary and brought skills and insights to the task that most men can’t.

  7. I’ve often wondered if this list of qualifications is an ideal to work from while having to deal with the actual reality of the people we have. What if everyone is divorced? What if no one is a particularly good teacher? What if you have three candidates and one is quarrelsome, one likes to drink a little too much, and one isn’t particularly hospitable. Do you just have no elders? That doesn’t seem possible. If you find someone who can fulfill everything then clearly that is the person to pick, but often there has to be a little compromise. It used to be in Baptist churches in my area that a man who was divorced was automatically disqualified. And yet there have been quite a few elected as deacons who were quarrelsome and loved money. What is worse, a guy who got divorced twenty years ago but has been a faithful loving husband to his second wife for 15 years and is otherwise qualified, or a guy who has never been divorced but is argumentative and greedy?

    • It used to be in Baptist churches in my area that a man who was divorced was automatically disqualified. And yet there have been quite a few elected as deacons who were quarrelsome and loved money.

      Ah. Divorce is a fact. Legal records and all of that.

      Quarrelsome and love of money are more opinions and thus subject to local windage.

  8. Burro (Mule) says

    One thing I really, really, really resent about the cultured disdain for resistance to female clergy is that is presumed to come from a place of ew, girl-cooties, can’t have girl-cooties behind the pulpit.

    Anyway, a Protestant clergyperson is ontologically closer to a college professor than one of our clergy, so there’s that, too.

    • I don’t care where it comes from, it’s still wrong.

    • Michael Bell says

      People would argue that it comes from passages like this.

      Which is why I wanted to show why that was wrong.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        “People would argue that it comes from passages like this.”

        Once again, I can’t speak for Catholicism but Orthodoxy is not an ideology extracted from a text. The punctuation is apparatus is found in a book somewhere, but was passed down [paradosis,traditio] from scribe to scribe which is also how you get the Masoretic vowels, that we don’t use either.

        Case in point; our bishops are drawn from among the monastics, although the Scriptures appear to require a bishop to be married. It was explained to me that during the persecutions, of which there have been many throughout our history, the married bishops were quicker to sell out the rest of the Church when their families were threatened than the celibate bishops. So slavish adherence to the text is not appropriate to explain our stance on male clergy.

        “Which is why I wanted to show why that was wrong”

        Strange that the people who use the language on a daily basis never got the memo. When I lived in Pensacola, it was a delight to see Bible teachers from Pensacola Bible College (sort of a Bob Jones clone) come to Father Andrew to have him settle intramural quarrels about New Testament Greek. Of course, they all recoiled from the icons as if they would bite them.

        Eeyore doesn’t even merit a reply at this late date. Best I can hope for him is a comfortable Purgatory working in middle management until he learns to first not resent, then accept, and finally rejoice in the Order of the Universe.

        • I don’t even want to consider what your purgatory will be. Sitting under the preaching of a lesbian woman for ages until you repent of your patriarchal bull manure, I suppose.

          • I was tempted to moderate Burro’s original comment. I think you had a fine reply Eeyore. Let’s leave it at that please.

        • **Eeyore doesn’t even merit a reply at this late date. Best I can hope for him is a comfortable Purgatory working in middle management until he learns to first not resent, then accept, and finally rejoice in the Order of the Universe.**

          WTF Mule?! We’re so blessed that you are so enlightened as to the Order of the Universe! No humility necessary when you’ve got the gnosis….

      • I would conjecture and argue that simply because elders and deacons appear in such and such a place in Holy Writ, does that mean that these offices are required in the first place?

        • Michael Bell says

          Could you expand on that thought a bit Norma?

          • This gets into a whole ‘nother topic, and that may be what Norma was getting at. I don’t want to put words into her mouth, but it’s a topic that’s been huuuge for some years within reformed–or reforming–baptist churches.

            The “list of qualifications” (or, the illuminated statement that elders must be above reproach) is one thing, and this assumes that one happens to be in a church that even HAS elders. However, the insistence that churches MUST have elders is quite another topic, and that topic has sucked all the oxygen out of these verses in some churches, and made lawyers out of us all.

            An interpretation that insists on elder-led church government as the only “biblical” model (and never congregational or episcopal government; these are therefore not valid) hijacks much of the meaning. As one of the commenters above asked, do these verses mean that elders must be married, because the elder must be “the husband of one wife?” No, and I would say neither do they mean that churches must have elders at all.

            As in many baptist churches recently, this came up during a struggle to change the by-laws of my former church. Elders are the only “biblical” form, the proponents insisted. It’s in 1 Timothy 3. “No,” I insisted, it’s merely mentioned in 1 Timothy 3. It’s described, not prescribed.

            The majority disagreed with me, but to their dismay it was not a 2/3 majority. Whatever the vote, everything kinda went downhill from there.

            Norma? Your ball.

            • Norma Cenva says

              There’s not much more to add, save that let each church governance be convinced as they see fit whether or not they should have an elder and deacon led polity.
              As you’ve pointed out, and I attempted to previously, the offices of elder and deacon are only ‘described’ in Paul’s missive, and not necessarily ‘prescribed’.

            • You hit on something I’ve felt for a while now.

              Most of the Bible is descriptive, NOT prescriptive. In my mind something like 95/5. My evangelical friends (a shrinking number) feel it’s more like 1/99.

          • Mike, I’ve got one in quarantine here. Thanks. Great post today.

      • Well it might be “wrong” but in the context of I Tim 2:12 the intent of the author would seem pretty clear. And it has been interpreted patriarchally since the beginning.

        An issue that needs to be raised in all these discussions is that the so-called Pastoral Epistles are almost certainly non-Pauline. There are many reasons to think so and you would be hard pressed to find a non-fundamentalist scholar who thinks otherwise. One important reason is that the attitude of the writer towards the role of women directly contradicts Paul’s own views. Paul’s churches had plenty of women in roles of leadership. What seems to have happened is that as the church expanded and began to include more and more converts, traditional attitudes towards the roles of women began to dominate the communities.

        The early church was much more egalitarian than it came to be later.

        • “And it has been interpreted patriarchally since the beginning.”

          That is the thing about Patriarchies… they tend to interpret thing patriarchally.

          1 Timothy 2:12 is another such example. The Greek is written in the present tense.

          Take the phrase “I am walking”. Do we take the negative to mean “I do not walk” or “I am not walking”?

          Well, given that it is in the present tense, we view it as a temporary situation and “I am not walking” would be the preferred rendering.

          That too is how I understand 1 Timothy 2:12. “I am not [currently] permitting.” Not “I do not permit”. It was a temporary injunction based on the situation at Ephesus where the Temple of Artemis was situated, and was a push back against that.

        • Iain Lovejoy says

          1 Timothy 2:12 is in fact far from clear.

          There is a “but” at the beginning of the verse, and it follows on from verse 11, which says: “Let a woman learn quietly with all due submission”.

          Without the “but” v11 would sound like Paul was saying women should firstly keep quiet and submissive when learning, and furthermore shouldn’t teach at all. The “but” means that in fact the first half Paul is instructing that women *should* be permitted to learn with the men (which would be a departure from the practice on the wider culture at the time) provided they do so “quietly and with due submission” (which is what would be expected of any pupil under any master at the time, male or female) and verse 12 sets out the limits of the permission in verse 11.

          But what exactly is Paul prohibiting women from doing?

          The first thing is “teach”, and there’s no ambiguity in the Greek, but the second is more difficult. It is agreed in all I have read that it doesn’t say “exercising authority”. The Greek actually says something more akin to “seize” or “take over”; it can mean “usurp” or even “murder” in the right context. What Paul appears to be in fact saying is that while a woman should be permitted to join in and learn with the men, that doesn’t mean she should be allowed to come in and take over the class. (Quite what was going on in Timothy’s congregation that Paul felt he needed to say this, God alone knows: I have visions of gangs of hacked off women excluded from Bible classes turning up en masse and heckling…)

          What is clear, however, is that nothing here suggests that once the woman has completed her study, she can’t go on to teach herself. There are plenty of mentions of women in prominent positions in the early church.

        • You can rationalize the passage if you wish but it’s clear how it was interpreted historically. The damage is done.

          • I agree, Stephen. Even in the unlikely event that Paul himself was not a misogynist, he was telling the church to not rock the boat but instead go along with the cultural misogyny that surrounded it. He is in a long line of men that have been telling women not to rock the boat, to know and stay in their place, since the beginning of time; in addition, he was telling the men of the church to prevent women from rocking the boat by keeping them in their place, another ancient practice. Reinterpreting Paul’s words to make them more palatable to the modern understanding of the full humanity and rights of women requires a lot of awkward and precarious interpretative contortion.

      • I would HOPE that it comes from passages like this, rather than Mule’s assertion that it’s primarily because, “Ew, girl-cooties.” I mean, which is more abhorrent, finding a scriptural basis for denial of females in the pulpit or the fear that women are somehow “contaminated”?

        • But there are OT scriptural texts behind the NT texts used to argue against women in ministry that support the belief that women are contaminated by their biology, specifically at certain times during their menstrual cycle, and are contagious until they are cleansed. Sounds like religious cooties to me.

          • thatotherjean says

            Yes. I think Mule’s “Ew, girl-cooties!” played a not-insignificant part in the suppression of women in the early–and some current forms of–the Christian church(es). Religious cooties, indeed.

        • I doubt that the issue is that of kooties/contamination.

          The Greeks and Romans thought of women as incomplete men. It wasn’t what we’d call “gender bias” as much as it was bias against an incomplete man who could not be the penetrator. Dominance.

  9. Good discussion and I think a good approach to interpretation.As my greek and NT professors used to say, context is almost everything.

    What struck me was that there appears to be considerable concern about having a good reputation even (maybe especially) with those outside the church, with society around us, with our neighbors.

    I didn’t take this to mean the church must compromise its standards or accommodate things in the surrounding culture that are corrupt. I took it to mean you are a good neighbor, good enough that those around you see this.

    The contrast between this concern and what I see in some of the more fundamentalist strains of evangelicalism is striking. At its worst, the fundamentalist mindset takes being “not of this world” to mean one can be a complete jerk and can view people outside the group with disdain and even contempt. The justification for this is almost always the “biblical” exhortation to be separate from the world and the fact that the world’s systems are thoroughly corrupt and that pagans are wholly degenerate (sharp calvinist influences often drive some of this).

    Yet this passage and others clearly show an overarching concern with being a good neighbor to create an environment where the good news can be heard an accepted. And it includes the fact that this depends at least somewhat on your pagan neighbors’ respect for you as a person.

    • “At its worst, the fundamentalist mindset takes being “not of this world” to mean one can be a complete jerk and can view people outside the group with disdain and even contempt. The justification for this is almost always the “biblical” exhortation to be separate from the world and the fact that the world’s systems are thoroughly corrupt and that pagans are wholly degenerate (sharp calvinist influences often drive some of this).”

      JOHN, this heavy self-righteousness and finger-pointing of ‘the fundamentalist mindset’ all seems so alien to being ‘of Christ’. I can see how extreme Calvinist teachings might aggravate the whole mess, with all of the gloom and doom of double predestination.

    • We can huddle up behind the chapel door and say we are separate from the world. We can look with some disdain on those that are rejecting Christ and following Satan‘s edicts. The thing we miss of course is that “the world” references an inner state of being. It is a condition of the heart. That disdain for “the other”, sometimes deviously disguised as pity, is in fact the hallmark of being entrenched “in the world”. It is in fact connection that draws us out of “the world”. It draws us out of isolation and rejection and deceit and the “fortresses of love” built to save God and His Kingdom. When it gets too churchy it’s time to at least take stock

      • Separation from “the world” = religious cult in a (figuratively or literally) walled ghetto. It can even end up in a jungle drinking cyanide laced Kool-Aid.

  10. One of the things I have come to believe is that we do not fully understand scripture due to our lack of understanding the colloquialisms in use at that time. We just don’t know what the Jewish culture would have taken this to mean. And the translators were just as clueless as we are, so don’t count on any particular translation being correct.

    A second best interpretation can be learned from modern Jewish scholars. They are more likely to understand ancient Jewish thought than we are. But they are like Baptists – put 2 of them in a room to discuss scripture and you will get 3 interpretations 🙂

    We see through a glass darkly….

  11. The phrase “so that the Gospel will not be hindered” is what stands out to me. There is a reason that the question that propelled me into the wilderness was, “What exactly is ‘the Gospel’ – what is the good news that was announced?” If that one isn’t answered, then the most important thing about understanding this passage is lost, and that most important thing isn’t about whether women are “allowed in ministry”. Nope, not at all.

    (And btw, the conclusion I came to is that if you’re a Protestant and using Protestant hermeneutics, a case can be made for both, but a better case can be made for allowing than not allowing. But the deficiencies of Protestant hermeneutics kept me in the wilderness and pushed me toward the ancient Church.)

    Dana

    • Deficiencies in Protestant hermeneutics, Dana, or fundamentalist ones?

      Like you, asking “What exactly is the Gospel?” was a turning point with me, too. And it’s not often answered satisfactorily.

      • Maybe the Gospel is not “exact”…

        • Well, it kinda is, especially if you look at the climactic points of the sermons in the book of Acts (excluding Stephen’s address – he was up to something different), along with 1 Cor 15. Then there’s Jesus’ own framing of it: the announcement of the good news about the Kingdom of God, the fuller understanding of which comes with having an idea of what the Jews around him understood that entailed. It’s not too hard to suss it out of Scripture… and it ain’t the Romans Road.

          Dana

      • I examined (including going to worship) Lutheran and Anglican hermeneutics, too, Ted. Praxis in each may differ from what their statements of faith proclaim, but the latter, based on interpretation of Scripture, are all consistent with the rest of Protestant doctrine regarding the goodness of God, what Jesus came primarily to do, and Christian anthropology. So, not only fundamentalist. No need to say again where I finally found a satisfactory hermeneutic and expression of The Gospel.

        Hope you’re not too chilly there DownEast!

        Dana

        • It’s been up in the fifties the past couple of days! I shouldn’t have had the wood furnace going because it doesn’t know when to take a break. Thursday was chilly though.

          From some people, whenever I hear that they “just want to be faithful to ‘the Gospel'” it sounds more like works of the Law, and behavior disciplined by elders in the church. But I think that’s common to all denominations, and humankind in general, probably part of the Fall itself.

          I mean, if they WANT to rule over others, fine, go ahead and try; just don’t call it “The Gospel.”

  12. So esentially the scriptures are not laying out a fixed and eternal list of unchangeable qualifications for being an elder but are rather taking the social norms of the day and saying, “Here is what truly matters if you wish to effectively, honestly and without reproach, draw people to Christ. That’s to say that if Paul were alive today he would probably have a list that was quite similar but in some key areas quite different because it would reflect the living breathing world we exist in. It would be equally possessed with intensity and the desire to draw people to the Lord but things like head coverings (not mentioned specifically here) would not be included because they are nonexistent and affect no one’s perception of how we see God. Then they did, now they don’t. Paul cared about your broad topic – bringing people to Jesus.

  13. senecagriggs says

    Starting a few nights ago, I’ve been binging on Christmas movies.