The value of men, women and sheep

Not long ago I was discussing whether men and women are equally valued in the Bible, in the context of the translation “sons” or “children” in Psalms 127 and 128. It has been interesting to read scholars like Claude Mariottini trying to argue that the biblical author intended to value sons higher than daughters. But in the end their arguments have to be based not on the words in the Hebrew text but on their ideas of what people would have been expected to think at that time. This is a very dangerous way of doing exegesis as it effectively stops the Bible being a radical or counter-cultural document.

Just now a similar issue has come up concerning Jesus’ teaching. Joel Hoffman’s new blog about Bible mistranslations God Didn’t Say That is generally excellent, so much so that I put it straight on my blogroll. But Joel himself got into mistranslation when he called Matthew 12:12 in TNIV “an explanation in part, not a translation”. I picked up Joel’s lapse in the comment thread on his post. J.K. Gayle has also posted about this error, and the issue has come up in discussion at Aberration Blog.

Joel’s error is basically that he persists in understanding the Greek word anthropos as referring at least primarily to males only. Although at one point he accepts that “The Greek anthropos was both inclusive and specific”, at the same time he continues to claim that translating it as “person” “diminishes the specificity of the example” – which only makes sense if he understands anthropos at least in this verse as gender specific.

But this is wrong. I accept, in line with the standard Greek lexicons, that anthropos can occasionally have a gender specific sense, in contexts where gender is in focus and the word is contrasted with a specifically female word like gune. But there is no such context in Matthew 12:9-14, where there is no explicit mention of gender at all. While we assume that the person with the withered hand is male, we are not actually told that. As I wrote in a comment on Joel’s post,

There is nothing in the entire account drawing any attention to anyone’s gender. Gender is no more relevant to the story than the colour of the man’s eyes. To bring gender specific words into a translation is to distort the text by introducing into it an entirely irrelevant and extraneous issue.

This passage as rightly understood, just like Psalms 127 and 128, in no way suggests that male humans are more valuable than females. Instead we here have Jesus’ strong affirmation that all human beings, men and women, are far more valuable than sheep.

Manifold ministry

Christian leadership is a contentious issue. Not long ago I was having to defend the very concept by posting that Jesus does speak about Christian leaders. Then yesterday the issue came up again as I asked Who is Catholic, but not Roman? – because for many people one of the defining characteristics of the Catholic or universal Church is a particular threefold model of ministry: bishops, priests and deacons. This is claimed to be a biblical model, but others, especially in newer churches, teach a fivefold model of church leadership taken from Ephesians 4:11: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

The threefold model certainly has the benefit of great antiquity. Indeed its proponents would date it back to the New Testament period. But it is somewhat ironic that the Greek words for these three orders of ministry are in fact all very ordinary words whose meanings are not at all technical: episkopos “overseer”, presbuteros “elder” and diakonos “servant”. Originally they referred to the kinds of roles which people would naturally have taken in gatherings within that society. It is only in church tradition that these three Greek words have been transliterated and distorted into technical terms in English for orders of ministry: “bishop”, “priest” (or “presbyter”) and “deacon”.

There is indeed biblical teaching about these three orders. The qualifications for overseers (KJV “bishops”) are outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9. The role of elders in the church is described in 1 Timothy 5:17 and Titus 1:5-6, among other places. And the requirements for servants (KJV “deacons”) are given in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. From this biblical teaching the three orders developed. But most exegetes today understand the biblical teaching to refer to only two distinct orders of ministry, overseers and servants (bishops and deacons), as apparently in the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:1). The term “elder” may have been synonymous with “overseer”, or may have referred generically to overseers and servants.

It is anyway very hard to argue from the Bible that having these three distinct orders of ministry is an essential characteristic of the true church. Nevertheless it is traditional, and at least to avoid unnecessary divisiveness it is good that the Church of England follows it – although the office of deacon is currently a rather nominal one: almost the only deacons are men and women in effect serving a probationary year before ordination as priests.

So then, how should this threefold model be compared with the fivefold model relatively recently reintroduced into some churches on the basis of Ephesians 4:11? One of the extras in the fivefold model is the recognition that even in the church today there are those who fulfil the roles of apostle (although not of course on the level of the original Twelve) and of prophet.

In practice this new ministry of apostle corresponds to some modern ideas about bishops: they are leaders in the church at a higher level than the local congregation and with a broader perspective. But there has been a tendency in the church to expect every priest working with a local congregation to fulfil within it the tasks of prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. There has been no real recognition in the church that these are four different ministries requiring different giftings, best exercised by different people. This has led to ineffectiveness and burnout, as priests, or those with the title “pastor”, attempt to fulfil ministries for which they are not gifted – and frustration among the “laity” who know they could do a better job than their pastor in some areas of his ministry, but are not given the opportunity because they have not been formally trained and recognised.

The sheer variety of biblical descriptions of leadership and ministry in the church, with no one model clearly repeated in more than one place, should caution us all against trying to set up any one model as the correct one and the mark of the true church. As Christians we are good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10 KJV). We should not try to squeeze this grace into the constraints of a threefold or a fivefold model, but instead allow it to be expressed in manifold ministry, each believer serving the Lord not according to a predefined job description but as he calls each one individually.

Who is Catholic, but not Roman?

I was a little surprised when Bill, in a comment here at Gentle Wisdom, seemed unsure of what I meant by “Catholic”, as a description of Doug Chaplin. Here is my response:

Bill, Doug is Catholic, i.e. a member of the catholic = universal church, but not Roman Catholic. Of course on that definition you and I are also Catholic. But within Anglican circles at least “Catholic” is used of Christians who put a high value on moving towards unity with Rome, and with the Eastern Orthodox. At least that is my perception – Doug may well want to clarify.

I was aware that this use of word “Catholic” is peculiarly Anglican. Now Bill, if I remember correctly, is a former Episcopalian. Is this terminology not used in The Episcopal Church? If so, it must be in even narrower use than I thought.

Probably all of us good Anglicans (at least the English speaking ones) recite regularly these lines from the creeds: from the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in … the holy catholic Church;

from the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

Quite often these lines cause comment from newcomers to my church, and my vicar has to explain that we are not Roman Catholics, that “catholic” in this context means “universal”. And this is indeed one of the dictionary definitions of the word. Indeed even in the context of the church, the following definitions are given of the word with a capital “C”:

  1. Of or involving the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. Of or relating to the universal Christian church.
  3. Of or relating to the ancient undivided Christian church.
  4. Of or relating to those churches that have claimed to be representatives of the ancient undivided church.

But who uses this definition d? The “holy catholic Church” which Roman Catholics believe in is only their own church, and all other Christian groups are mere “ecclesial communities”. Similarly the Eastern Orthodox believe that only their own churches are the true Church. It is as far as I know mainly we Anglicans who believe that our own church is just a part of “the holy catholic Church” along with the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox  – although there are other small groups such as the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church which appear to have similar beliefs.

We Anglicans might differ over whether we consider other Protestant denominations and independent congregations to be part of the Catholic Church. Some of us, especially those who would self-identify as Catholics, deny them this status because they don’t have the apostolic succession and the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. Ironically this is the same argument which the Roman Catholics use to put Anglicans outside the Catholic Church.

But there is still something strange about the description I have used of Doug Chaplin as Catholic, or I might call him Anglo-Catholic. If he is a Catholic in the sense of “A member of a Catholic church”, then for him I as a fellow Anglican am also a Catholic.  But I would call myself not a Catholic, as I am not on that wing of the Church of England, but an evangelical.

So, if Doug is described as a Catholic and I am not, is this based on a definition of “Catholic” which needs to be added to the dictionary? Or does this indicate a basic split in Anglicanism between those who identify themselves with a visible “holy catholic Church” and those who, like me, believe that this is a spiritual entity not identical to any earthly group or set of groups?

Seeing red about red letter Bibles

Clayboy, alias Doug Chaplin, is right on the ball for once with his attack on red letter Bibles. In the first of three posts he called this practice of printing the words of Jesus in red The worst evangelical heresy? (complete with question mark). In the second post he answered an objection about quotation marks. Today he completed his trilogy of attack on the incarnadine text (and to save you looking it up, as I had to, “incarnadine” means “Of a fleshy pink colour” or “Blood-red”) with a summary of the discussion. See also the discussion and links at Evangelical Textual Criticism, and, from that site last year, Peter Head’s Defence of Red Letter Bibles.

In his summary Doug has three main points about red letter editions, of which one which especially impacts evangelicals like myself:

it [the incarnadine text?] overthrows any strong evangelical doctrine of Scripture, and therefore undercuts the whole basis of evangelicalism. I admit I write this as to some extent at least, an outsider. But if the whole of Scripture is in some sense (acknowledging that evangelicals can disagree about the precise sense) either God-breathed (as the NIV has made fashionable) or God’s Word written (as older formulations had it) then singling out the words of Jesus implicitly invites people to believe they are more important, more the word of God, than the bits for which ordinary black type will do.

Indeed. It is quite wrong to take the words of Jesus as somehow more important or authoritative than his deeds, or than the words of the apostles.

In case anyone worries that I am following a liberal Catholic like Doug (well, I’m sure some people describe him as such) rather than good evangelical scholars, I can quote Don Carson on my side. He starts by referring to

what Tony Campolo now approvingly calls ‘red letter Christians’. These red letter Christians, he says, hold the same theological commitments as do other evangelicals, but they take the words of Jesus especially seriously (they devote themselves to the ‘red letters’ of some foolishly-printed Bibles) and end up being more concerned than are other Christians for the poor, the hungry, and those at war. Oh, rubbish: this is merely one more futile exercise in trying to find a ‘canon within the canon’ to bless my preferred brand of theology. That’s the first of two serious mistakes commonly practised by these red letter Christians.

The other is worse: their actual grasp of what the red letter words of Jesus are actually saying in context far too frequently leaves a great deal to be desired; more particularly, to read the words of Jesus and emphasize them apart from the narrative framework of each of the canonical gospels, in which the plot-line takes the reader to Jesus’s redeeming death and resurrection, not only has the result of down-playing Jesus’s death and resurrection, but regularly fails to see how the red-letter words of Jesus point to and unpack the significance of his impending crosswork.

So, we evangelicals should unite with more Catholic Christians like Doug in calling for an end to these distortions of the word of God.

Gentle Wisdom has moved!

I have just moved Gentle Wisdom, this blog, to a new URL (and a new hosting provider):

Please update all your links and bookmarks.

However, old links should continue to work through redirection to the new site. Please let me know of any problems with this, by comments on this post or by e-mail to peter AT gentlewisdom DOT org DOT uk (my e-mail address only for traffic related to this blog).

Now to work on a new look, including updating my own links and adding a couple of new logos I can now display.

UPDATE: New look completed, at least for now, and I have added the Biblioblog logo and Rachel’s award to my sidebar.

Bishop Michael Reid arrested on suspicion of rape

Last year I reported on the fall of Bishop Michael Reid. He had been the controversial pastor of Peniel Church in Brentwood, Essex – a highly controlling leader who ruled over his flock in a way which was a complete antithesis to how Jesus taught church leaders to behave. But Reid resigned when it was revealed that he had for eight years been having an affair with the music director of the church.

Since then, I understand that Peniel Church has been putting its house in order. But apparently Bishop Reid has not. It has been reported today, as the lead item in the Brentwood Gazette (sister newspaper to the Essex Chronicle which last week made its lead item the resignation of another church leader), that

THE founder and former leader of the Peniel Church, Bishop Michael Reid, has been arrested on suspicion of rape.

It is understood that the controversial Bishop, 66 – who split from the Peniel Church after admitting to adultery – was arrested in the early hours of Thursday August 27 following an allegation of rape.

I have no information beyond what is in this newspaper article.

Zondervan wants to hire a blogger

Zondervan, the Christian publisher which has recently been in the news, and on this blog, for its announcement of the NIV 2011 update, is looking to hire a blogger, to work as a managing editor in its Bible group. Among the required personal characteristics in the job description is

• Active blogger

This is a requirement apparently because a major part of the job is “Managing new Zondervan digital Bible projects”.

Thanks to Rich Tatum, a lapsed blogger (so he wouldn’t qualify for the job) who himself works for Zondervan, for this tip which is apparently on his Twitter feed.

If this job was in the UK I might apply for it myself. But I doubt if Zondervan could get me a US work permit for it.

Work in progress

I am working on moving this blog to a new hosting service and a new URL (but in such a way that old links continue to work, I hope).

c11Meanwhile I apologise for any disruption to service on this blog. At times I may have to disable comments, and unexpected or temporary URLs may appear in your browser bar.

Should I apply to become a biblioblogger?

Should I ask to have Gentle Wisdom, this blog, included in the list of the top 50 biblioblogs? I am currently in these people’s list of “Related Blogs: 1. Christian Spiritual, Theological, or Homiletic”, but I think I should qualify for their main list, at least according to the criteria just in clayboy’s latest post – at the moment. I accept that in the past there have been times when the focus of this blog has been a bit different, more on church issues than on the Bible. However, recently even when I have discussed matters relating more to the church they have been linked with biblical interpretation. I think I would also qualify according to the top 50 biblioblogs blog’s own criteria:

A blog is included in the rankings if it contains substantial content related to biblical studies or closely related fields, evidences a scholarly approach to biblical studies (not requiring academic qualifications, but excluding blogs with mainly homiletic or devotional content, unscholarly approaches, or a primarily theological focus), and is currently active and posting.

Also my current Alexa ranking of 1,226,422 is high enough for Gentle Wisdom to go straight into the top 50.

I know their current focus is on adding more women bibliobloggers. I don’t want to detract from that laudable aim. But maybe they would like to add this blog as well. I would ask them straight away, except that I have plans in hand to move Gentle Wisdom to a new domain of its own, and it would make more sense to wait until I have done that before looking for more publicity.

Did Jesus live in Nazareth according to the Sermon on the Mount?

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere, is very hard for anyone to live up to. I certainly don’t do so myself, although I do make it my aim.

This is so hard that some Christians teach that the Sermon was never intended to be lived up to, but only to provide an unattainable standard of excellence to show us humans how sinful we are. This is the Unconditional Divine Will View or the Repentance View, numbers 10 and 11 of the 12 interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount listed in this Wikipedia article. The implication of these views, and indeed of several of the other views in this list, including the dispensationalist view, is that the Sermon should not be understood as practical instructions for Christians living normal lives in this world.

This view is challenged by the implications of what I read today at Bill Heroman’s NT/History Blog. In the latest instalment of his long series on Jesus’ life in Nazareth, Bill writes:

In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus tells us that God rewards those who fast secretly, who put oil on their heads and wash their face, so that no one will know they are fasting. If rewarding such behavior means God likes that behavior, then Matthew must be implying this behavior was characteristic of Jesus before his baptism. …

If this is not valid, we would have to assume that Matthew thought Jesus was inventing new strategies for fasting which he’d never practiced himself. That certainly doesn’t seem to fit Matthew’s high opinion of Jesus and would actually place him closer to the showy hypocrites just decried in the same series of statements. …

Therefore, if we take the original passage as an historical teaching of Jesus, according to Matthew, then we may also take the inversion of it as a historical aspect of Jesus’ life in Nazareth.

If Bill’s line of argument is valid, then Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere must be based on his own practice.

There is a step which I don’t think Bill has actually proved, that Jesus’ teaching reflects his practice before he began his public ministry, and not just during this ministry. But the alternative would have to be that his baptism marked a radical change not just in his way of life but also in his basic attitudes. This would be inconsistent with the Christian teaching that Jesus was the sinless Son of God not just from his baptism but also from his birth. Also in this case, given that the Sermon on the Mount occurs early in Jesus’ ministry and doubtless some of his hearers near Capernaum would have known him from his time in Nazareth, one would expect some references more like “Don’t do as I used to do” alongside those of “Don’t do what the hypocrites do”.

The implication of this is that during the “hidden years” of his life at Nazareth, working as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) in Joseph’s workshop and living with his mother, brothers and sisters, he was leading his life according to the standards which he later taught in the Sermon on the Mount. This further implies that it is possible to live according to these standards, not only while living apart from the world but also while living a normal family live and doing a normal job.

I note also that at this time Jesus was not filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way that he was after his baptism. So it is hard to argue that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite for living according to the Sermon on the Mount. Anyway, this is no excuse for Christians, who are already filled with the Holy Spirit even if this is not always evident in their lives.

So why are so many of us Christians quick to find reasons why we don’t have to obey Jesus’ teaching? Could it be just a little bit too uncomfortable and demanding? Does living according to the Sermon on the Mount sound a little too likely to lead us to rejection and even death, as eventually it did for Jesus? But isn’t that what we are called to as Christians? Isn’t that what Jesus meant with these words?:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Matthew 16:24-25 (TNIV)