Stuart is coming at 1 Cor 11 from the opposite end of the spectrum of the Debunkers. They are militant unbelievers, whereas he is a conservative, Bible-believing Christian. Since he raises some valid questions, let’s run through them:
“Steve’s (and others’) argument is essentially the same explanation my late father and pastor gave for not requiring head coverings in church. I have deep respect for those men, but I have trouble buying the argument. For me, it’s is a frightening notion to simply dismiss a direct, clear biblical mandate on the basis what seems a very heavy dose of speculation. I could, after all, speculate “until the cows come home” to justify behaviors and even theological positions that are, say, more agreeable to my disposition or socially acceptable but that violate the plain sense meaning of scripture; I believe examples of this practice are myriad nowadays.”
Several basic issues:
1.Since I’ve not a woman, the question of wearing hats in church is irrelevant to my disposition. It would, at most, be relevant to the disposition of the woman affected by that policy. But the issue has nothing to do with whether I, as a man, find the custom agreeable or not since I’m not party to that custom one way or the other.
I don’t wear a hat in church, and I wouldn’t wear a hat in church even if it were socially acceptable to do so.
2.Is it socially unacceptable for a woman to wear a hat or head-covering in church?
This custom only exists in certain conservative churches, and the only people who might be offended by that custom are people who don’t attend conservative churches in the first place.
3.Nowadays, what is socially unacceptable to many is the idea of male headship (in the hierarchical or authoritarian sense). That’s what offensive, not donning a hat.
I believe that four of the T-bloggers have weighed in on this issue: Paul, Gene, Evan, and me.
As I recall, all four have defended the principle of male headship. And that, predictably enough, was the principle which a number of our critical commenters have pounced on.
If we wanted to be politically correct, we’ve go the egalitarian route or even resort to feminist hermeneutics. That would be the easy way out.
4. You talk about the “clear” or “plain” sense of Scripture. Clear and plain to whom?
To whom is this supposed to be clear or plain?
1 Corinthians wasn’t written to you. It was written to the Corinthians.
In the plan and providence of God, 1 Corinthians was written for you, and every other Christian, but it wasn’t written to you.
The question to ask is what would be clear to the original audience.
For example, Gene makes the point that no one really knows what the allusion to the “angels” (11:10) has reference to. That’s a very in-house allusion.
Apparently, this is part of an ongoing exchange. A modern reader is jumping into the middle of an ongoing discussion. And when something like 11:10 comes along, we’re out of the loop.
5.As to speculation, there’s a difference between responsible speculation and unbridled speculation. There’s a difference between an educated guess and a wild guess.
There’s bound to be a speculative element in any historical reconstruction of the original setting.
The alternative to attempting a historical reconstruction is to interpret the text in a historical vacuum, and when you do that, what fills the vacuum is your own historical setting. You’re 21C sitz-im-leben unconsciously supplies the historical situation.
You’re suggesting that the grammatico-historical method is a way of setting aside whatever we or others find disagreeable or unacceptable in Scripture.
To the contrary, the GHM does just the opposite. It restrains the expositor from substituting his own preferred frame of reference for the original. He is not at liberty to swap out original intent for the revisionist interpretation du jour.
6.Keep in mind that even in dealing with the original audience, Paul also had to write 2 Corinthians to correct some misinterpretations of 1 Corinthians. So what he wrote wasn’t entirely clear to the very people he wrote it to.
Not that he was unclear in his own mind. But you can’t control both ends of the communicative process.
7.No methodology will prevent people from being sly or disobedient. But one paradoxical function of Scripture is to give some people something to rebel against. And that will be held against them on the Day of Judgment.
“What are the biblical controls on an interpretive framework that relies so heavily on manmade categories?”
Of course, this is a loaded question.
1.At one level, the external control takes the form of a uniform methodology, known as the grammatico-historical method.
2.If, however, you mean some rule-of-thumb that will prejudge the interpretation of any given passage, then, of course, that does not exist, and we wouldn’t use it if it did since this would impose on the text rather than listen to the text.
3.What “manmade categories” do you have in mind? Paul deploys several different arguments in the course of his discussion. There’s an appeal to custom in 11:16. That’s a sociological argument. He also frames the issue in terms of honor and shame. That presupposes a shame culture. Another sociological argument.
On the other hand, he also appeals to the natural order (vv7-9,14). That’s a cross-cultural argument.
So, when I distinguish between timeless principles and timebound applications, or cross-cultural norms and culturebound applications, these are Pauline categories, not manmade categories.
Sure, the labels are manmade. But the concepts which the labels denote are not manmade categories.
4.Do you really think that Christians are under some standing obligation to reproduce a Greco-Roman dress code? Tell me, do you wear a toga to church? Do you walk around barefoot in the sanctuary? Or to you dress according to the dress code of your own culture and social class?
5.When Paul talks about a shameful mode of dress, whether for men or women, what is “shameful” is observer-relative. “Shame” in relation to the message it sends to others. The social signals. And that varies in time and place. Community standards.
It’s not altogether relative. For example, here are stereotypical ways that men and women may dress to be attractive to the opposite sex.
But much of what goes into a dress code involves culturebound social markers.
In India, a married woman puts a dot between the eyes to signify that she’s no longer eligible. In America, she wears a wedding ring.
“The arguments that have been floated here that favor setting aside a mandate that Paul, himself, makes no effort to qualify as time bound or culture bound seem devoid of the kind of exegis that is ubiquitously celebrated on this blog.”
1.To the contrary, your objection does not reflect a close reading of Paul. It fails to distinguish the variety of arguments he brings to bear in making his case.
2.Gene and I have spent a lot of time on this text. You may disagree with our exegesis, but we have laid out a detailed case for our position by directly interacting with the text.
Frankly, your objection gives us nothing to respond to because it’s so very vague. And you haven’t presented an exegetical alternative.
“From my perspective it plays into the hands of the opponent to suggest we can shunt aside entire passages on the basis of appeals to considerations that are completely external to the text.”
If you think that our interpretation plays into the hands of the enemy, then you are welcome to engage the enemy yourself, using what you deem to be a better approach.
“Why would God make the path to true understanding be so circuitous?”
1.And what is so “circuitous” about our interpretation? A distinction between a general norm and a specific application is pretty straightforward to me. Between the universal principle and the way in which that principle is concretely particularized from place to place and age to age.
2.If it seems complicated, that’s only because the Curry brothers have gone out of the way to disregard the obvious.
Therefore, Gene and I and others (Evan and Paul) have to spend a lot of time explicating the obvious.
3.I and others find it fairly easy to identify the timeless principles: sexual differentiation, male headship, and sexual interdependence.
Reconstructing the historical reference point is more involved, but that’s true of historical reconstructions generally.
“If I, due to ignorance of, say, the cultural milieu in which Paul was writing, accept the plain sense meaning of the Bible (regarding head coverings) as opposed to the heavily nuanced, theory-laden interpretations offered thus far, have I not been deceived by the Bible itself?”
1.The question at issue is not merely one of what the passage “means,” but how it applies.
2.If you’re deceived, then you’re deceived by a false expectation, and not by Scripture.
Indeed, your appeal to the “clear” or “plain” sense is deceptive or self-deceptive.
Most folks read the Bible in translation. Someone had to learn Greek and Hebrew. Ultimately, a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew comes from reading Greek and Hebrew authors, inscriptions, &c. Meaning is determined by usage.
A NT lexicographer reads secular Greek and LXX Greek as well as NT Greek in order to piece together a knowledge of Koine Greek. The cultural milieu is what supplies the usage.
3.The meaning of Scripture is not and cannot be self-contained. For the text of Scripture is studded with many extratextual referents.
What is Paul talking “about”? What is he “referring” to?
Paul himself is situating his discourse in the context of the Roman Empire. And when Paul is talking about the world of Greco-Roman culture or Second Temple Judaism, then it is incumbent upon us to consult the available evidence in order to know what Paul is talking about. To hear the text as it would have been heard by the Corinthian congregation.
“And if contextual considerations trump the literal sense in this case, what seals us off from the possibility that beliefs that we currently consider essential will be set aside at some future date by a more ‘sophisticated and ‘historically informed’ interpretive grid?”
1.You continue to confound meaning with application.
2.You also set up a false dichotomy between text and context. The cultural context is an essential ingredient of original intent. Paul means what he meant to mean to his audience. He is writing to be understood.
He doesn’t spell out everything he means because he can allude to familiar examples. They can read between the lines and fill in the blanks.
But their common knowledge is not the same as our common knowledge.
3.What’s your alternative? To say that all interpretations are frozen in time? That we could never make an archeological discovery which would revise our interpretation of any given verse of Scripture?
4.”To whom much is given, much is required” (Lk 12:48). You and I are not responsible for some hypothetical discovery which would force us to reinterpret some passage of Scripture.
That hasn’t been given to us. You’re the one who is now indulging in speculation, not me.
5.There’s a great deal of redundancy built into the teaching of Scripture. Nothing “essential” turns on one particular verse.
Jon Curry said:
“A fascinating and refreshing post, Stuart. It is good to see honesty and a willingness to admit that some issues are difficult and cannot simply be dismissed with the wave of a hand.”
Gene and I didn’t “dismiss” the issues with a “wave of the hand.” To the contrary, we presented a detailed respond.
It’s the Curry brothers who indulge in preemptory dismissals.
“I face the same difficulties with the problem of evil, because I believe in God. But I don't bother with the trite responses to the problem that Christians often offer.”
No one at Triablogue has offered a “trite” response to the problem of evil.
“It's a hard issue and I'm willing to admit that I don't have all the answers.”
This is an exercise in mock modesty. Curry believes that God is the wrong answer to the problem of evil.
“But I must warn you that you may not be able to survive as a Christian with this honest approach to the Scriptures. Steve is so comfortable man-handling the text of the Bible that he can even dismiss ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ from Lk 6:31 with the simple excuse that it is a ‘distraction’".
1.A palpable lie since this is not the only reason I gave.
But Curry wants to play hopscotch. He raises a “problem passage.” When we answer him on his own level, and he can’t answer back, then he tries to change the subject without admitting his error.
There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. By hopscotching from one verse to another and another and another, Curry can stall for time and play out the clock if you let him.
2.Notice that Bridges answered him, which he ignores.
3.He gives no evidence that I “manhandle” Scripture. Assertion in place of argument.
“Steve made his decisions a while back, and today the Bible is Play-Doh. Whatever he wants it to say it will say.”
Notice that Curry is characterizing my interpretation rather than arguing it down. He substitutes a tendentious description for a reasoned argument to the contrary. No attempt to actually show that I treat the text like Play-Doh. Just a lazy, evasive characterization.
“When 2 Pet 2:1 says ‘They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them’ for Steve that still means Christ only died for the elect.”
1.Notice how he changes the subject. He tries to make his opponent fight on several fronts at once while he retreats from a losing skirmish.
2.What I point out in 2 Pet 2:1 is that the Arminian interpretation is anachronistic. It maps later, dogmatic usage back onto Biblical usage as if the mere occurrence of the word “purchase” were a technical term denoting the full-orbed doctrine of penal substitution.
“When I Tim 2:12 says that women need to be silent in church, for Steve it doesn't mean that.”
1.Agreed. 1 Tim 2:12 doesn’t mean that. And that’s because it doesn’t say that. Curry is mistaking 1 Cor 14:34 for 1 Tim 2:12.
Since 1 Tim 2:12 isn’t 1 Cor 14:34, it’s quite true that one verse doesn’t mean the same thing as a different verse—just as “Jesus wept” doesn’t mean “Judas hanged himself.”
2.I don’t have a vested interest in this question. I’m not a woman, and I’m not a church officer. So it’s not as if my exegesis is driven by some ulterior motive.
3.Verses mean what they mean in relation to the flow of argument as well as other injunctions.
i) 1 Cor 14:34 cannot be a blanket prohibition since Paul makes specific allowance for (some) women/wives to speak in church (11:5).
The language in 14:34-35 is a carryover from the same usage in the immediately preceding verses of the same chapter (vv28,30,32), with reference to the adjudication of prophecy.
So the prohibition probably has reference to women (or wives) who sit in judgment over the various oracles, quite possibly cross-examining their husbands.
ii) How this applies to the current situation depends, in part, on how we answer another question regarding the continuance or discontinuance of the spiritual gifts.
iii) 1 Tim 2:12 cannot be a blanket prohibition because Paul elsewhere instructs women to teach other women (Tit 2:3-4).
iv) There is also a question regarding the syntactical relation between the two negations with reference to the two infinitives. Is the prohibition applied to two separate activities (to teach, to exercise authority over men), or is one an extension of another?
For Curry to say that I ignore the meaning of these verses when he acts as if the meaning is separable from semantic and syntactical considerations regarding the grammatical construction, usage, and flow of argument, is utterly mindless.
But we’ve come to expect mindless objections from the Curry brothers.
“When I Cor 11 says women need covering on their head, Steve makes it say something else. “
No, it means exactly what it says. The point at issue is not the original meaning, but the modern application.
Application is an argument from analogy. You reason from cross-cultural norms in tandem with the historical setting to analogous circumstances. The norms apply to a comparable situation.
That is why a book like Bruce Winter’s Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Eerdmans 2003), is germane to the exposition of 1 Cor 11.
It is not enough to identify the timeless principles. Until we can also identify the original situation, we are unable to apply the timeless principles to a parallel situation.
“And now Luke 6:31 can be discarded. This is a verse that many consider to be one of the central aspects of Christ's teaching.”
1.I don’t have a duty to drive down every detour that Curry points me to. The Curry brothers use chapter and verse as a decoy, skipping about to avoid being cornered. Prove them wrong and they change the subject. It’s a pretty transparent ruse.
Notice how Curry is simply assuming that Lk 6:31 is a problem for my theology. But he doesn’t bother to explain how it poses a problem for my theology. He doesn’t bother to argue his point.
I’m under no obligation to explain how a given verse of Scripture is consistent with my theology when he makes no effort to explain how it is inconsistent with my theology. He’s given me no argument to refute.
“The Bible means nothing for Steve. He might as well throw it out.”
Sure. That’s why I invest thousands of dollars in commentaries and exegetical resources. Real convincing.
“You may be facing decisions right now that Steve faced long ago. Will the Bible be Play-Doh, kind of like the Supreme Court treats the Constitution, or will you accept it for what it says?”
Bad example. The Warren Court and its contemporary epigones (e.g. Larry Tribe) disregard original intent in favor of a “living Constitution,” whereas the GHM does just the opposite.
“I made my decision, as difficult as it was. I was sorely tempted to take the path of least resistance as Steve probably did.”
1.The path of least resistance would be for me to adopt the egalitarian interpretation.
2.I never made a “decision” to believe the Bible. Belief is not an act of the will. I simply found myself believing the Bible. Found myself in a believing state of mind.
“I'm proud to say…”
His pride will mean a lot to him when he’s rotting in the grave.
“I took honesty over comfort. Will you?”
What the Curry brothers exhibit is intellectual escapism rather than intellectual honesty.
They raise intellectual objections to the faith. When their objections are answered on their own level, they either change the subject or strike an anti-intellectual pose.
“Will you put hats on the women? Who knows where that could lead you.”
Other issues aside, to insinuate that there’s something horribly oppressive about a woman wearing a hat in church is pretty hilarious.
“Who knows where does putting hats on women will lead to?”
Let me think about that for a moment. Okay, I guess it leads to women with hats.
Likewise, putting sneakers on boys will lead to boys with sneakers.
Yes, I can see my faith melting away, drop by drop, under the acid touch of Curry’s remorseless logic.