Friday, June 15, 2007

Questions of Interpretation

I wasted my blog writing time this morning on responding to a lady who questions my doctrine and practice. I don’t normally get so involved with my responses, but since this is an area of deep concern and interest to me, I got carried away. Anyway, I’m posting a modified version of the response for any who may be interested.

Here is the argument as best I can reconstruct it:

1) You’ve not seen a single example in all of the Greek literature where exousia echein clearly means “to have on one’s head a symbol of being under someone else’s authority.”

2) You’ve not seen a single example in Koine Greek where authentein clearly means “to exercise appropriate authority.”

3) Therefore, you reason that the “male – female relationship in the church is one of brother and sister.”

Here is my response:

First, comments on blogs are no place for tight logic, but I don’t see how your conclusion necessarily follows even if I were to grant your first two points. The reason those of us who affirm what we see as a God designed and ordain patriarchy is not based on these two verses alone, but on the whole thrust of Scripture from beginning to end. We don’t need these verses to be overwhelmingly clear, since the rest of the Scriptures lay out a basic framework within which we can interpret them, that is, we believe that of the Bible helps clarify these otherwise confusing statements. This is the traditional doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. We don’t maintain that all parts are equally clear, but we do maintain that the light of the Word in some parts illuminates others that do not shine as brightly.

Even so, I can still agree with your conclusion as written. You are absolutely right. By in large, the male – female relationship in the church is one of brother and sister. If I were to approach another woman, married or not, and speak into her life authoritatively, in whatever form that could take, I would be out of place. I am not an elder in my church and God has not placed me in authority over any other woman in the church besides my wife and daughters.

But that is as far as I can go with the statement, since it is clear that you mean much more than that. If I’m not mistaken you hold that women can be elders and therefore exercise authority (appropriate) over her brothers. [Side note not included in my original response: I’m not sure she agrees with me here. As an egalitarian, she may say that neither male nor female elders should exercise authority over others. I haven’t seen enough of her writings to see where she comes down on this.]

Books have been written on this, so I’ll just make two more observations. First, if all you have going for you is the fact that you think that the interpretation of these two verses is questionable; I don’t think it would be wise to make any hard and fast conclusions based on them. What I’m getting at is this: you haven’t argued convincingly that these verses mean the opposite of what I hold, only that my interpretation is not as solid as I might have hoped. Therefore, given what you’ve stated, we should not draw any conclusions from these verses. Paul’s murky indicative simply will not support any clear imperative. Maybe that’s all you were trying to say, but you used the word “deduce” and so I have to assume that you were drawing a conclusion.

Secondly, I don’t follow your argument on the lack of Greek literature supporting my interpretation. You seem to be saying that since we do not find any instances in the Greek literature supporting the way Paul is using these words and phrases, therefore Paul must not have meant them the way the church throughout the ages has understood him to have meant them.

I don’t think you are on very good ground here either. First of all, it could be that Paul is introducing a new tradition to the church (I think we would both agree he is not). If he were, he would necessarily have to be using the phrases and words in ways that had never been used before. Yet even so, I think he is introducing a “new to the Greek world” tradition. That is, he is introducing new ways of thinking about men and woman and their dress. He bases these new traditions in Messianic Jewish thought. This way of speaking is totally foreign to this Greek audience (not to mention to much of his Jewish audience). Therefore, it should not surprise us at all that we can not find these phrases being used in new ways in the Greek world of Paul’s day or in previous generations. In the end, I see this way of arguing as very weak, especially in the light of the overall flow of thought in the Bible at large and the thrust of these passages specifically.

Above: Can't remember if I posted this photo already, but again, I like it. I took it several years ago, so it's probably missing some new buildings.


Laura said...

Hi Chris,
I hope you know that although we joke about babies, we'll all be having many of them in the next few years AND we are all very sad that you won't be at Jekyll. It won't be the same without your sweet family.
Disappointed in Aurora

Christopher said...

Hey Laura,

We'll miss you all too. Thanks for taking my jab with a grain of salt! We love you all and know that you'll make good mothers. Hope to see you all soon.