Review: What's with Paul and Women?

Jon Zens kindly sent me for review a copy of his book What’s With Paul & Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Tim 2 (Ekklesia Press, 2010).

Zens starts his book with a quotation dated 1709 from a vicar of Dedham in Essex, UK, teaching (in fact quoting KJV) that women should learn in silence. So it is fitting that I write from Essex to examine Zens’ argument against that position as traditionally understood.

The book is a brief one – barely 60 pages of large print in its eleven chapters, and another 40 or so (of pages without numbers!) in three appendices (which I have not yet read). It is largely concerned with just two verses in the Bible, 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

In chapter 1 Zens shows how the New Testament as a whole views women. He notes how Jesus went completely against his culture by allowing women to travel with him, and put no restrictions on what they could do. He describes how women like Phoebe, Priscilla and Junia were church leaders. He makes a good point that “Jezebel” in Revelation 2:20 is not condemned for being a women teacher, but for being a false teacher. Thus, Zens writes,

The general flow of the New Testament reveals no need for females to walk on eggshells because of any alleged “restrictions” put upon them by the Lord. (p.32)

In the very brief chapter 2 Zens explains the purpose of the letter:

1 Timothy is not a universal church manual for a pastor. It is a mandate for an apostolic assistant to deal with serious issues involving false teaching in Ephesus. (p.34)

In chapter 3 Zens discusses the background to his passage in 1 Timothy 2. He notes how the same Greek word hesuchia is used in verse 2 as well as in verses 11 and 12 and so cannot mean “silence”. (Actually in verse 2 the Greek word is the adjective hesuchios, but the underlying meaning is surely the same.) Thus Zens sees the thrust of the chapter as teaching to avoid the kind of disorder that was common in Ephesus.

In chapter 4 Zens brings in the cultural background of Ephesus, with the strong influence of the Temple of Artemis. He claims that the women of Ephesus sought favour from Artemis “by donning and presenting expensive attire and ornate hair” (p.40, quoting Frank Ames). He sees Paul’s instructions to Timothy in verse 9 as in deliberate contrast.

In chapter 5 Zens shows in more detail that hesuchia in 2:11,12 does not mean silence, despite the KJV rendering. It is somewhat ironic that he quotes Leland Ryken in support of his point that some people wrongly assume that their preferred Bible translation is “completely accurate and trustworthy”. Zens then looks at the word “submission” in 2:11, and notes that this is not a requirement only for women, as elsewhere in the New Testament all Christians are taught to submit to one another. Then he notes that women are told to learn – a surprising point in the cultural context. Unfortunately he compromises his logical argument in this chapter by twice digressing into polemics.

Chapter 6 is also something of a digression from the main discussion as Zens describes “Post-Apostolic Mistreatment of Women”. His approach is summarised in his first sentence:

The retrogression that occurred with reference to women in the post-apostolic age can be compared to what happened in other doctrinal and practical areas. (p.53)

Zens suggests that Paul’s words about men as the “head” were misunderstood in terms of the mind-body dualism of classical Greek philosophy. Thus he distinguishes the apostle’s teaching from that of the church fathers, and indeed from that of much of the church through the ages up to today.

In chapter 7 Zens returns to the exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:12. He argues that Paul’s words which he renders “I am not now permitting…” are to be understood not as a command but as a shift in strategy in response to false teaching. He then moves on to the double infinitive construction, and cites Philip Payne in support of an understanding that

Paul in this Ephesian situation where some women were propagating error does not want them to teach with the purpose or goal of getting their way with [or dominating] a man. (pp.65-66, parenthesis as in Zens’ text)

Concerning the infamous infinite authentein Zens, citing Linda Belleville, writes that the word

simply does not have the meaning “exercise authority over.” (p.68)

He then looks at Jesus’ teaching on authority, and concludes from it that

we must rid ourselves of the traditional idea that some kind of inherent authority resides in the position of “teacher” [or, in our day, “preacher”]. (p.69, parenthesis as in Zens’ text)

This of course completely undermines the understanding of 2:12 as teaching that women must not be in such positions of authority.

In chapter 8 Zens moves on to verse 13 of 1 Timothy 2, and sees Paul’s teaching that Adam came first as polemic against the teaching of the Artemis cult that the female came first. In chapter 9 Zens discusses verse 14 and notes close parallels with Revelation 2:20-24, suggesting that this verse is Paul’s teaching against a specific woman false teacher.

In chapter 10 Zens attempts to meet the objection that he is not upholding this passage as “timeless gospel truth”. He points out that all the New Testament letters are in response to specific local issues, and that they all have to be interpreted in the light of their cultural contexts.

Zens sums up his argument in chapter 11, and concludes that

to use 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as a basis to completely silence the sisters in Christian assemblies is hardly an accurate way to handle Scripture. It uses one context to cancel out the revelation of many others. … those who persist in using 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as a means of subordinating women in the body of Christ may be guilty of continuing in and perpetuating a false teaching. (pp.89-90)

Strong words! Has Zens justified them? He makes no claim to have done original research for this book. Rather, he writes of his own method that

in most cases I am just calling attention to some foundational points others have unearthed through diligent research. (p.43)

The book comes across as based on a clear but not very detailed exegetical discussion of the verses, based on a variety of sources. This was then expanded to be thick enough for a kind of book by adding some extraneous polemics, and matter from church history, also the appendices. Although the subtitle is “Unlocking the Cultural Background…” this background is in fact only a minor theme.

The arguments made in this book and good and thorough for a popular presentation, although not rigorous enough to convince scholars. I also doubt if it would convince those initially opposed to Zens’ conclusions, not least because the polemics in chapter 5 would alienate them. But this book will be helpful to those who are unsure of their own opinions, and for those who tend to share Zens’ position but want good material to back it up in argument with others.

I don’t think I would go quite as far as Zens in using the provocative words “false teaching”. But he is right to conclude that this passage in 1 Timothy cannot properly be used to stop otherwise well qualified people from active service in the church just because they are women.

The Prodigal Dustman

The BBC reports that Lotto winner Michael Carroll wants dustbin job back. In 2002, when he was 19 and already a convicted criminal, he won £9.7 million on the lottery. After his win he continued a life of petty crime. Now he has spent it all, including (he admits) £1.2m on drugs. So he is looking to return to his old job as a dustman.

Sadly the local bin service operators are not taking the same attitude as the Prodigal Son’s father, and have said they “are not recruiting for operatives in the area”.

What does this say about lotteries? I will give the last word to Carroll himself:

Asked if he regretted what he had done since winning the jackpot, Mr Carroll said: “When you give nine million pounds to a 19-year-old what do you think is going to happen?”

Did the Church suppress Jesus' message of forgiveness?

Tommy Wasserman of Evangelical Textual Criticism reports on a New Dissertation in TC on the Pericope of the Adulteress, i.e. on the passage John 7:53-8:11 which is omitted or relegated to a footnote in some Bibles (including TNIV), because most scholars do not consider it to be an original part of John’s Gospel.

In this new dissertation (I have not read it) John David Punch looks in detail into the text critical issues relating to this passage. According to the author’s summary and Wasserman’s post, Punch examines five theories which could explain the textual evidence. Wasserman writes:

Although the author said in the summary that “[n]o particular theory is advocated for” it is nevertheless clear that in the end he favors #5 Ecclesiastical Suppression …

That is to say, Punch’s favoured theory is, in his own words,

Ecclesiastical Suppression, suggesting that the Church omitted the pericope out of fears that it could be misinterpreted and/or misapplied.

Now Punch also writes that “the theory is likely unproveable”. But if it is true, it raises some interesting questions. Why might the Church have chosen to suppress this particular passage of Scripture? Could it be because this is the clearest teaching in the Bible that sinners should not be condemned, but forgiven and told to “Go and sin no more”?

That message of forgiveness is implicit in the whole of New Testament teaching, but it is not one that the Church has always upheld. At some times in the early Church, perhaps including the period when this passage could have been suppressed, the false teaching was in circulation that sins committed after baptism could not be forgiven. At other times the Church has treated sexual sins as far more serious than most others, and adulterous women and prostitutes as quite beyond hope of salvation – quite against Jesus’ teaching here and elsewhere. To Christian leaders with that attitude this passage, included in most mediaeval and modern Bibles, must always have been an embarrassment.

In our broken world the Church needs to emphasise again Jesus’ teaching of unconditional forgiveness, while not forgetting the “sin no more” conclusion. If this passage can be rehabilitated as a genuine part of the Bible, which this dissertation might help to do, that would be a great help in breaking down the barriers of guilt and unforgiveness which keep so many people apart from one another and from God.

Patton: not yet a Charismatic

Well known blogger C. Michael Patton of Parchment and Pen, who is associated with the conservative and dispensationalist Dallas Theological Seminary, has written an interesting long post explaining Why I am not Charismatic (originally several separate posts, also downloadable as a short “e-book” PDF). TC Robinson posted a summary and response to Patton, which interestingly has generated more comments than Patton’s original post – including some from me.

Patton has clearly moved on from the old cessationist position of dispensationalists and most conservative evangelicals, that the true biblical charismatic gifts have ceased and that any such manifestations seen today are false and of the devil. Indeed that was more of less his personal position. But he has changed his views quite significantly, to the extent that he can now write:

I don’t think that one can make a solid case for the ceasing of the gifts from Scripture. …

I believe the same about the gift of prophecy, tongues, and other supernatural sign gifts. I believe they have ceased because they ceased in church history (as I argued) and I, personally, have never experienced them. Therefore, I am a “De Facto Cessationist.”

Thus his argument comes down to one of experience, his own and that of many, but not all, through church history. The issue becomes even more clear when he writes:

I have also said that one of the primary reasons why I am not charismatic is because I have never experienced such gifts in a way that would compel me to believe that these gifts, as they are expressed today, are legitimate.

A common complaint made by cessationists against charismatics is that they base their theology on experience rather than the Bible. But here Patton is doing exactly that to make his cessationist point: arguing from his own experience, or lack of it, to make a point which he accepts he cannot prove from Scripture. And of course this is his experience because his own Christian life has, I suppose, mostly been in cessationist circles where no opportunity is given for open practice of these gifts.

It seems that Patton’s position at the moment is something like “charismatic gifts are not something I personally want to exercise”. But that is not a tenable position. It is interesting that while he refers to 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, he completely ignores chapter 14, which is the key chapter in the Bible about charismatic gifts. And it is there that we find clear apostolic commands:

Follow the way of love, and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. … Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:1,39 (TNIV)

This leaves no room for a middle way. Gifts like prophecy and tongues are not optional extras in the Christian life, which some can ignore in their personal lives and forbid in their churches if that is their personal preference. They are a normative part of church life, even if not of every individual’s Christian life. If they were not seen in most historical churches, that is because the leaders of those churches disobeyed these apostolic commands.

Patton concludes:

I am not Charismatic. I am not necessarily cessationist either. I am, right now, a de facto cessationist who lives with a high expectation that God is going to move in the way he will. I hope that I am always ready to follow.

Thus we conclude, de facto.

Patton has perhaps embarked on the same journey which Jack Deere also embarked on while at DTS, which led him into a full-blown charismatic position. Clearly Patton has not yet moved nearly as far as Deere. But we can hope and pray that he and the rest of his DTS colleagues will keep moving in the right direction, as God leads them, and eventually find the full biblical truth about the charismatic gifts.

North America here we come

My wife Lorenza and I are getting ready for an extended trip to North America. We will be there from 25th May until 18th August, nearly three months. For much of that time we will be based in Monroe in northern Louisiana, where Lorenza has friends and a church. We will also spend some time touring around – in the south west USA from Colorado to California and perhaps further north, also possibly in New England and to the Niagara Falls area of Canada where I have relatives. This is in some ways a delayed honeymoon, as our trip to Italy at Christmas was not so much that as a chance for me to meet Lorenza’s friends and family.

If any of my blogging friends are interested in meeting us, especially but not only if you live in the areas we are already planning to visit, then please let us know in comments here, or by e-mail to peter AT gentlewisdom DOT org DOT uk.

I’m not sure how much blogging I will be able to do during this trip. It may depend on what Internet access we can get.

After we return to the UK we expect to be moving to Warrington in north west England, between Manchester and Liverpool, where Lorenza intends to complete her training as a dance teacher. But our detailed plans are still uncertain.

Not Brown, but blue and orange

At least here in Chelmsford even the sunset sky was painted in the colours of the two parties of the moment, blue and orange, as David Cameron took over as Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown faded away much more quickly than I expected, apparently because his own Labour party was not behind the suggested “progressive alliance” with the Liberal Democrats.

So we will have a coalition instead between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. I wish the new government well. I hope its colours will turn out to be not so much of the sunset as of a new dawn for our great country.

The Biblical Argument for Social Justice

Tyson asked me to comment on a post on his blog wayfaring stranger (but not lost) entitled The Basis for Social Justice in the Bible. The following is based on my comments there. It also provides some background material for my criticism of the Westminster 2010 Declaration.

It seems to me that Tyson made an indisputable case that God’s people in the Old Testament were expected to practise social justice and care for the poor, and that that was enforced by the Law of Moses. There are clear provisions in that Law requiring all Israelites to make adequate provisions for the poor, for widows and orphans, and for destitute foreigners. And there are clear if sometimes implicit sanctions against those who do not do this.

Tyson also argues from Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The position is perhaps even more clear in Amos and Micah, especially Amos 2:6-7, 5:11-12,24, 8:4-6 and Micah 6:8-16.

But there is a weakness in Tyson’s argument which is clear in his last sentence:

Christians today do not live in a theocracy like the Israelites did when given the law of Moses, but we can apply biblical principles to government in regard to social justice the same way we advocate on behalf of the unborn and to protect families.

Ancient Israel was a theocracy in which divine commands were enforced by the government. But we live, for the most part, in secular states. And it may well be wrong for Christians to expect secular states to enforce on the general population rules intended for the people of God – on social justice issues just as much as on moral ones. If it is not wrong, a careful theological case needs to be made for this – and Tyson omitted this step.

So perhaps the Old Testament is not the place to look for the principles we should apply. At least we should be looking to the books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and parts of Genesis and Exodus, where Israelite believers lived under pagan governments. Or we should be looking at the New Testament where the same applies. In Matthew 23:23 for example we find a clear endorsement of the principle of social justice – but at an individual and community level, not a governmental one.

There is of course a democratic argument that if the majority of the people, or their representatives, are in favour of (for example) social justice, an elected government has the right to impose this. However, we also accept that the government does not have the right to go against certain fundamental human rights even of a minority, and that might include the right to enjoy one’s property without excessive taxation etc. But that is not really a biblical way of arguing.

Joseph, Daniel and Nehemiah are perhaps the only biblical believers to hold high government office outside the theocratic state of Israel. So it is valid for us, living outside a theocracy, to look to them as examples on these issues.

Consider for example how Joseph dealt with the famine in Egypt, in Genesis 42 and 47. For seven years he taxed those who had an abundance by taking a share of their grain. And then when the famine came he sold this grain back to the people in exchange for their money, their livestock and their land – thus in effect nationalising these. He then (47:26) imposed a lasting 20% tax on agricultural produce. This sounds remarkably like state imposed socialism to me. And, although this is implicit, it seems to have had God’s blessing.

Now I’m not suggesting that anyone uses this as a biblical argument for something like communism. But it does show how state intervention to provide for the poor is highly biblical, even outside a theocratic state. Therefore it gives a justification and an encouragement for believers like us, Christians with significant influence in democratic societies, to seek to persuade secular states to impose on their countries, and on the world, social justice according to the biblical principles laid out in the Old and New Testaments. So let’s go ahead and do that.

Fading Brown, and Post-Election Arithmetic

As a child I learned that a mixture of red, orange, green and other colours gives a dirty brown mess. Now it is beginning to look as if a mixture of parties with these colours (but not blue) will lead to a messy Brown government, at least for a few months. Gordon Brown has announced that he will go by the autumn, after a successor has been elected. So it looks as if he will not so much resign as fade away, like an old soldier, and his successor as Prime Minister is more likely to be a Miliband than a Cameron.

But will this messy government last? I don’t see why not. The pro-Conservative press has been repeating the opposite so often that people (such as Phil Ruse in a comment at Clayboy) are starting to believe it, but it is not true: a parliamentary alliance between Labour and the Liberal Democrats will not be hopelessly unstable.

Let’s look at the figures. Here is the new composition of the House of Commons:

Conservative 306
Labour 258
Liberal Democrat 57
Democratic Unionist 8
Scottish National 6
Sinn Fein 5
Plaid Cymru 3
Social Democratic & Labour 3
Green 1
Alliance 1
The Speaker 1
To be decided (probable Conservative) 1
Total 650

Is there is a new pact between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, it will have 315 seats. Then include its Northern Ireland allies SDLP and Alliance which give it 319, or 320 with the likely support, at least tacitly, of the Green MP.

To defeat it requires an alliance of Conservatives, DUP and SNP for a total of 321, or 324 with Plaid Cymru, assuming Sinn Fein and the Speaker stay neutral. SNP at least will be terrified of supporting the Conservatives and precipitating a Cameron minority government or a new election. But without nationalist support the Tories have only 315 votes and so no chance of defeating the “progressive alliance”.

So it seems to me that, as long as their own MPs don’t break ranks, a coalition of Labour and Lib Dems is likely to be quite stable. It should certainly be stable enough to do what needs to be done to stabilise the economy, as presumably the Conservatives would not want to precipitate an election on such matters. It might not be able to get through Parliament some of its more radical ideas, but perhaps what we need now is stability rather than radical change.

As for the argument that this government would lack legitimacy, that is nonsense. Under the current electoral system as supported by the Conservatives (they are now offering a referendum on a kind of change but would campaign against it) the winner is the grouping which can command a majority for the Queen’s Speech. It looks like Cameron cannot. Brown may be able to, and that looks like making him the winner.

Jonah's whale returns to the coast of Israel

For decades I have been taught that the fish that swallowed the prophet Jonah, and then vomited him up on the beach near Joppa, could not have been a whale. After all, I was told, there are no whales in the Mediterranean Sea. So, the argument often went on, the story of Jonah cannot be true and the Bible cannot be trusted.

So it should “shock” biblical scholars as well as conservationists that, as reported by the BBC,

A gray whale has appeared off the coast of Israel

– and indeed is pictured with Herzliya Marina, just up the coast from Joppa/Jaffa, in the background. Apparently these whales normally live only in the North Pacific, and none have been sighted in the North Atlantic or the Mediterranean for centuries. But for some unknown reason this individual, perhaps one of a colony of gray whales, has swum half way round the world to the coast of Israel.

So, when we read in Jonah 1:17 (TNIV) that

the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah

he could well have brought it all the way from the Pacific – and so the absence of whales in the Mediterranean is no barrier at all to taking the story of Jonah as a true one.

A Sermon on Jeremiah 4: A Chance to Hear Me

Here is a rare chance to listen to my speaking voice. I only just discovered, a week after I preached it, that my sermon on Jeremiah 4 was recorded and made available on my church’s website. Or if you are looking for this recording some time in the future, when it is no longer near the top of this page, then here are direct links to the MP3 files: standard quality, high quality. The sermon as I preached it follows the text I posted last week quite closely, but not precisely as I ad libbed at times.