Thursday, December 27, 2018

Prayer shawls

On Facebook I got into a discussion about whether 1 Cor 11 requires all Christian women to don a prayer shawl in church. 

1. Church history is not the context of Paul's statement. Many Christians who insist that Christian women are obligated to wear a prayer shawl in church are cessationists, so the prophecy part is defunct from their perspective. Moreover, Paul's description of worship at Corinth is quite different from a typical Baptist or Presbyterian church service, so there's a danger of selectively prooftexting a position when our worship doesn't correspond to the overall pattern in 1 Cor 11-14.

2. To claim the Bible says what it means and means what it says is a simplistic hermeneutic. For one thing, Scripture has lots of satire, sarcasm, hyperbole, irony, paradox, and metaphor, so there's sometimes a significant difference between what it says and what it means.

3. It isn't necessary for Scripture to say X is culturally conditioned to know that X is culturally conditioned. To take a comparison, the parables of Jesus often use culturebound imagery. Imagery based on life in 1C Palestine. Now, the message of the parables is timeless, but to apply them today we must extract the message from the culturebound imagery.

4. One consideration that's often germane to interpreting biblical statements, commands, and prohibitions, is the implicit point of contrast. What error are they correcting or opposing?

5. Likewise, this is what gave rise to the Sabbath controversies between Jesus and the Jewish establishment. Once again, it's sometimes necessary to go behind a command to ask the purpose of the command. 

Christ's opponents labored under the illusion that they were being faithful to Scripture by mechanically obeying commands, but there are situations in which rote obedience is unfaithful because it fails to take into consideration the intention of a particular command or prohibition. 

6. Some commands and prohibitions are absolute but others must be applied in comparable terms and situations. Missionaries and translators must often deal with that. To take a comparison, there are societies that don't have bread and wine. So celebrating the eucharist would require substituting analogous foodstuff and drink.

7. Symbolism is often culturebound, so what matters is the principle. A different symbolic might be required to signal the same principle.

Dress codes often have a degree of cultural conditionality. They send different signals at different times and places. To robotically reproduce the same dress code without regard to what that signifies misses the point of Paul's argument. If it fails to retain the same symbolic impact, then that defeats the intended purpose. 

To faithfully apply biblical commands, we must apply them to analogous situations. One of the errors of the 1C Jewish establishment was failing to take into account the underlying rationale for a biblical command. The primary force lies in the rationale.

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I think the proper interpretation is that a covering should be warn only when a woman publically and vocally prays in called worship.

    The common practice of wearing a head covering for the entirety of a worship service doesn't seem to follow the "plain reading" of the text, so I'm not sure why modern proponents of perpetual covering use the "the Bible says what it says" approach.