It was an argument about women preaching in church.
The first guy was a moderate and a historian, and he wrote a book about why women should be allowed to preach. The second guy was a pastor and a conservative, and he argued against this view. The first guy replied, the second guy responded. Each response was slightly more testy than the one before, but still polite, I guess.
I don’t want to focus on the topic just now (that will come some other time) but on the basis of the two arguments.
If that doesn’t sound all that thrilling, please read on, because I think it is very important.
What’s in a word?
The discussion centred around 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach”, and the meaning of the word didasko, teach.
The first guy said it meant something more than simply delivering a sermon, and so didn’t apply to preaching today. The second guy said no, it simply meant teach, and thus included modern day sermons.
The argument got pretty technical, and went on for pages. How was this word used elsewhere? Which one of four possible meanings should be applied in this particular case?
In the end, surprise surprise, both men ended up exactly where they’d started. The first guy remained moderate and convinced about the historical context, the second guy remained conservative and sure that his position couldn’t be challenged.
That’s the way God planned it?
Is this really the way God planned the Bible to be used?
Here are several reasons why I think not.
Did Paul really consider such fine points when he wrote these words?
We can’t know what was in Paul’s mind, but surely that means we have to be a little wary of examining meanings in finer detail than Paul may have intended for his words?
This way of interpreting the Bible is not the way Jesus and the apostles did it
Jesus and the apostles were very loose in their interpretation of their scriptures, our Old Testament. For example:
- Most scholars say Isaiah 7:14 refers to a young woman, and the more restrictive meaning of virgin isn’t likely (there is another Hebrew word for that), yet Matthew apparently had no problems using the more restrictive meaning.
- In Mark 14:27 Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7, and in Ephesians 4:8 Paul quotes Psalm 68. In both cases, they change the words and the meaning.
These examples suggest that finer points of meaning were not always important for Jesus and the apostles, so we have to wonder whether we should have a different emphasis to them.
Can only Greek experts read the Bible with understanding?
Obviously we need Greek experts to translate the New Testament. But once a person has it in their own language, do we really think that the meaning of some important passages must remain hidden to them if they don’t know Greek?
Of course it is always helpful to have any extra knowledge we can get, but do we not believe that the Bible and the Holy Spirit are enough to know God’s will?
Who obeys everything in the Bible?
I have given examples elsewhere of many places where christians who say they believe in the Bible’s authority nevertheless find ways to explain away some clear meanings that don’t fit their theology. A few examples include:
- “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Luke 14:33
- “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.” 1 Corinthians 14:5
- “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:24
Few of us apply these verse strictly and literally. But if it is legitimate to explain away the obvious meaning of these sayings, then how can it be truthful and consistent to argue about so fine a shade of meaning in the case of didasko?
This type of interpretation, and argument, only demeans the authority of the Bible.
With this approach, the authority on contentious matters is no longer the Bible, but the opinions of Greek experts. In the end, I am left with the impression that the real, though unadmitted, authority is the theological view each person holds, which leads them to favour a particular interpretation.
It is hard to claim we believe in the authority of the Bible if we treat it like this.
So it seems to me that both the men I have referred to are victims of an inconsistent system of interpreting the Bible. It seems likely that each is defending a viewpoint they feel strongly about, and are using the Bible to justify their views rather than remaining less dogmatic in view of the uncertainties.
Is there a better way?
I believe there is.
The Holy Spirit gives wisdom and teaches truth
We believe the Holy Spirit gives wisdom and revelation (e.g. Ephesians 1:17, 1 Corinthians 12:8), and in John 16:13, Jesus says the Spirit will guide us into all truth.
So surely it is foolish and arrogant to engage in discussion of difficult matters like this without explicitly seeking the Holy Spirit’s wisdom – both protagonists together!
We still believe the Bible, especially the New Testament, are our scriptures which reveal God to us. But they are only authoritative when interpreted correctly. And they can only be interpreted correctly if we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
How it should work?
When we come across a difficult passage, or any passage really, we do our due diligence and seek to understand the historical context and the meaning of the Greek words.
But we also diligently pray the the Holy Spirit would guide us to the understanding he wants us to have today and in our situation.
The New Testament shows us that the guidance of the Spirit can most be known by the body of believers, not just by an individual (see e.g. Acts 13:1-3, 15:28, 1 Corinthians 14:29). So we need to be praying with others, especially those who think differently, each honestly asking the Holy Spirit to guide them all, and to change their minds if they are mistaken. And we should be looking for signs of the Spirit’s consensus in churches around the world.
People will see dangers in this approach. Any kook can claim the Spirit’s guidance, they will say, and things will become chaotic.
But I suggest:
- That already happens. People predict the end of the world, proclaim weird ideas, start strange churches. I don’t see that stopping soon, unfortunately.
- Even among what we may class as sensible christians, there are a wide range of matters on which there is wild disagreement about what the Bible actually teaches.
- If we look for consensus, it is less likely that strange ideas will surface, not more.
- Do we really believe in the Holy Spirit, or not? There is a danger in modern evangelicalism for our Trinity to be Father, Son and Holy Bible. Do we not trust God in this?
Let’s do it!
Let’s move on from relying on intellectual arguments to decide important matters. Let’s invite the Spirit to guide our reading, and our conclusions.
If you want to read more about what the first and second guy said, here are the references:
- Hearing Her Voice John Dickson, May 2014.
- Women and ‘teaching’ Andrew Heard, September 2014.
- Brief Thoughts On Andrew Heard’s Critique Of Hearing Her Voice John Dickson, September 2014.
- A Brief Response To John Dickson’s Response To My Response. Andrew Heard, October 2014.