They Faced Death

They Faced Death

By Mike Riley 2/7/2017

Looking back upon the lives of God’s “heroes” in Hebrews 11 will make a person think of his own life. “Have I accomplished anything worthwhile?” That question has been reflected in the literature of man for centuries. That is the appointment all must anticipate at some time is an obvious truth (Hebrews 9:27). We cannot escape it. But how should we face ?

How Paul Faced Death

Paul faced death with expectation, neither fearful nor seeking it [see Philippians 1:20-24]. Some have taken their own life for various reasons, but that is not a real solution. It was Moses himself who wrote the following words: “All our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:9-10).

Visiting The Local Cemetery, Facing Death

In our short lives, we have been to the cemetery too often, haven’t we? Loved ones are gone and they will sorely be missed. Many of you who read these words have more years behind you than ahead of you. May I make a suggestion? Take an hour or two and go through your local cemetery. Do so without the association of a funeral. Look at the names, the dates, the families and the epitaphs. If that seems a bit morbid, think again. Some occasions on which we visit the local cemetery are sad, but they can be thought provoking.

We Must All Face Death

It makes no difference how rich or powerful a person may be, we must all face death unless the Lord returns first. Job said death is “the house appointed for all living” (Job 30:23). Look at all the famous statesmen, heroes, athletes and leaders of the past. Just as we read in the Bible, “….and he died” are the words that describe the end of each and all of them. Even the “miracle” of modern medicine has its limits. Since that is true, rational people will prepare for that time. I’m not talking about pre-arranged funerals, but preparing our soul for eternity, for that’s where we are headed.

Facing Death We Leave All Else Behind

In a Massachusetts cemetery lies the body of a man who lived 103 years and was the patriarch of his county, ruling the most acreage and producing the most wealth. He died in 1912, leaving it all to his sons, who in turn lost it all due to bad business decisions. None of them were able to stash any of their wealth in their burial clothes. All their wealth was left behind. In the aftermath of the sinking of the ill-fated Titanic, reports noted that eleven millionaires had been among the hundreds on board who went to a watery grave in April 1912. Their combined wealth totaled nearly two hundred million dollars. Yet if these millionaires could have sent a message to the living about the most important things in life, not one would have mentioned money. Solomon, wealthy as he was, said: “As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15). Our wealth, our fishing boat, our business, our bank account, our golf clubs — all will be left behind!

As We Face Death The World Will Keep Going

It’s easy to become obsessed with our own importance, thinking we are “necessary” to the survival of civilization. How can my family, my business, etc., survive without me? But they can, and they will. I don’t wish to belittle the significance of anyone’s life, but the world has been able to get along without Elvis, Lincoln, Babe Ruth, Roosevelt, Henry VIII and Julius Caesar. And it will have to learn to get along without us, too.

Some Face Death “Before Their Time”

We need not go to a cemetery to learn that no one has been given a guarantee of any number of years. Several years ago I viewed the graves of more than fifty small who died as a result of an influenza plague in 1895. Their gravestones reflected the grief of family and friends. The inscriptions indicated the shock felt by their community. No one had wanted those precious to die at such a young , but those things happen. Is that not reason enough for us think more personally about the fragile, temporary nature of life on this earth? An hour or two in our local cemetery might help us think about life and its brevity.

Many Face Death Daily Without Hope

While those were safe, there were thousands in that lonely graveyard who were not safe, having faced death, as the declared: “….having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Conclusion

Isn’t it sobering to consider that thousands face death in sin every day without obeying the of Christ? (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). If that won’t sober our thoughts, our heart needs some work. How about you, dear reader? Why not take a walk through your local cemetery some time. It will make you “think” — and it may change your life (forever).

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Why Be Rational In Religion?

 

Why Be Rational In Religion?

By Kevin Cauley 2/8/2017

I was talking with someone the other day regarding coming to the services. The person explained that he was going to a denomination right now because his child liked going to this place. That is when this thought crossed my mind. Would I leave any other major decision in my life up to a child? If I were to go buy a car for the family, would I let the child decide which dealership to go to? Which model to drive? If I were buying a house or looking for a job, would I put that decision solely in the hands of my child? Granted they might get some input, but children are just not equipped to make those kinds of important decisions. Now take the fact that the soul is the most valuable commodity that man owns today and then ask yourself, “Would you put the decision for what to do with your soul in the hands of your child, merely based upon your child’s likes and dislikes?” This seemed to me to be a very irrational thought. However, I then immediately realized that people are often very irrational when it comes to matters of religion.

Take for example the popularly used sentiment, “I just feel it in my heart.” This is one of the all time great irrationalities of religion. This is used to justify just about every sort of practice known to man on the planet. However, take this same sentiment into the corporate boardroom and put it in front of a CEO and a board of directors for how to spend money and you will get laughed out of the business. Take a few salesmen and set them before potential clients and tell them to say, “You need to buy my product because I feel in my heart that it is right for you” and they will leave empty handed. The soul is much more valuable than any amount of money to be spent by a business or any product to be sold, yet people often sell their own souls short in matters of religion by expressing this inadequate measurement of truth.

Another great irrationality is this, “If it was good enough for my mother and father, it is good enough for me” or “That is where my family goes, so I just go with them.” This is one that I know people use in religion but seldom use in every day life. For example, when someone is asked why they believe a certain doctrine, they might give this sentiment. However, when it comes to the type of job one has, or the type of car one drives, or the house one lives in, it just isn’t good enough. How many would abandon their new cars for the old broken down jalopy that their parents drove years and years ago. How many would abandon their new houses for the old kindling row houses of yesteryear? If anything, Americans live by the principle that parents should create a better life for their children, yet, when it comes to religion that evidently doesn’t apply. Again, the soul is so much more valuable than houses, cars, and jobs. Why should we not hold religion to the highest standard of ?

How many times have you heard this one, “It doesn’t matter what you believe.” Whoa! Now there’s one that you better not take with you to driving school. That sentiment is just not going to pass there. “I know that sign says ‘STOP’ but it just doesn’t matter what you believe.” When is the last time you told a police officer that after he stopped you for speeding. “Officer, I know I was doing 80 in a 35, but you know, after all, it doesn’t matter what you believe.” I think that you will find a deaf ear when that ticket is written. And don’t even try this one in a court of law. “I know I wrote a hot check, judge, but after all, it doesn’t matter what you believe.” I am sure you will hear the judge reply, “30 days, and if you don’t believe that it is wrong after that amount of time, you can have another 60.” However, when it comes to religion, this ranks in the top five excuses for not doing what is right. How much more valuable is the soul! Yet we don’t hold those who claim to care for it to the high standards that we hold our driving instructors, law officers and judges.

Each of these sentiments represents a different flavor of irrationality. It is obvious to all that regarding matters of practicality that these sentiments would never by able to pass. However, when it comes to religion, people expect the irrational. So they excuse themselves in irrational ways. However, the religion of Jesus Christ is NOT irrational. In fact, when Paul went to preach the gospel to others, the scriptures say that he “reasoned” with them (Acts 17:2; 18:4; 18:19; 24:25). We are admonished by Paul to “prove all things” 1 Thess. 5:19. John tells us to “try the spirits” (John 4:1). In dealing with matters of religion, we are to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). None of these things involves the types of excuses that are given above. And when it all boils down to it, that is the bottom line, these are just excuses. The religion of Jesus Christ is not irrational as popular culture would have you to believe. God desires us to think and act correctly in regard to His word. There is nothing more valuable or important than one’s own soul (Matthew 16:26). We should apply the same exacting standards of toward it as we would toward any other matter of importance in this life. “Come let us reason together, saith the Lord.

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Bible Study on Scripture Reading: Blessed is He Who Reads

Bible Study on Scripture Reading: Blessed is He Who Reads

By Kevin Cauley 2/9/2017

A few years ago, the late brother Guy N. Woods told a story about a minister who called for the removal of the Bible from his congregation for a period of six months. Recently, I received an e-mail in which the writer expressed the view that the public reading of the scripture was boring and that he did not get anything out of it. Those who once simply ignored the reading of scripture evidently feel that they can now challenge whether or not it is read at all; apathy has become disdain. Moreover, it is a mark of apostasy that some in positions of in the desire to limit another’s reading of the scripture. At the high point of Roman Catholicism, Bibles were chained to pulpits and access was limited to few.

Contrary to this , a blessing is pronounced upon those who read the scripture. One such beatitude is found in Revelation 1:3 “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this , and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” Here, the full spectrum of scripture reading is detailed: reading, listening, and doing. Those at Berea were considered “. . . more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Such a singular blessing should encourage every congregation to follow the Berean’s example.

Moreover, the Bible is replete with language that encourages not only reading, but intensive study of the scripture. In Deuteronomy 6:7 we read of the intensity with which God encouraged the Israelites to ingrain the scriptures into the minds of their youth: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy , and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” In The Pulpit Commentary, W.L. Alexander writes concerning this statement: “. . . literally, Thou shalt sharpen them to thy , impress them upon them, send them into them like a sharp weapon.” This is the force of the word “diligent” in this passage. In Psalm 1:2, we read of the intensity with which an individual is to study the scriptures: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” The Hebrew word “meditate” connotes a sound that is deep, recurring, and constant. This illustrates the uninterrupted pensiveness of one whose “delight is in the law of the Lord.” Too, 2 Timothy 2:15 impresses upon us the importance of handling scripture correctly: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The desired student is a worker–one devoted to a task–who has been tested and approved.

The blessings associated with reading the scripture do not come from a casual glance. Like anything, with hard work and dedication, comes an appreciation and understanding of that to which one devotes himself. And regarding those who would stifle the reading or studying of the scripture, whether public or private, it is no secret that ignorance breeds contempt.

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Our Gospel Meeting

Our Gospel Meeting

By Kevin Cauley 2/10/2017

Today we are privileged to start a meeting. Let us not take this opportunity to study God’s word lightly. Let us not take this opportunity to have fellowship with one another less than seriously. Let us not take this time to be evangelistic with any less zeal than we would the most important event in our life. The of Jesus Christ will be proclaimed this week! It is a time for us to rejoice, invite, reflect, and show our love for God and for one another.

Meetings are too often looked at today as relics of days gone by. Many disparagingly say that the meeting is not what it once was. And as long as this is our toward it, then it will be exactly that. Do we get excited about studying God’s word. Do we delight in the preaching and teaching of the ? Our makes a great difference when planning for and attending a meeting. All good works start with good attitudes. All works that are destined for failure involve at one point or another attitudes that consign those works to failure. Let’s resolve in our hearts and our minds to have the proper attitude toward this meeting and let everyone know that we appreciate and love the !

Gospel meetings are times when we get to enjoy fellowship with one another. I love my Christian family and I want to be with them as much as I can. We should view our Christian family with no less love than we would our own earthly families. We recognize the importance of spending time with our earthly families. Do we recognize the importance of spending time with our spiritual families? Our gospel meeting is a time to do exactly that and to show forth the love that we have for one another.

Gospel meetings are times when we can work to evangelize our community. There are souls who are in need of the gospel of Christ right here in this city and county. They need the truth of God’s word or they will be lost. Do we believe this? Many times we invite our affluent friends and family members and they do not come because of their self satisfaction? Do we remember the words of Jesus? Go out into the highways and byways and invite the poor, the mame, the sick, and the blind! All need to come and hear the gospel. Let’s not limit our invitation to those who we think are “good prospects,” but invite all to hear the good news proclaimed.

Gospel meetings are a time to show that we love God more than anything. Yes we all have earthly concerns with which we must deal on a daily basis. Yes we each have responsibilities at work, bills to pay, property to maintain, and many different concerns with which we are forced to deal on a daily basis. But we also recognize that things that are truly important are things that we WILL take time to do. Are our efforts in the kingdom of God any less important than these other things? They are, in fact, the most important efforts that we can make on the face of the earth. Do we believe Matthew 6:33 when it comes to the yearly gospel meeting? Let us seek first God’s kingdom this week as we MAKE the time to come and hear the gospel preached.

Yes, our gospel meeting is a time for zeal, fellowship, , and love for God. As we read in Hebrews 10:19-25 “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of , having our hearts sprinkled from an evil , and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

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Tigay and Brueggemann

Tigay and Brueggemann have each authored what are apparently complete opposite (in terms of approach and focus) commentaries on Deuteronomy. This much seems clears from the outset, given among other factors, the nature of and purpose of the two series that they are writing for, JPS Torah Commentary and Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, respectively.

Tigay’s work is certainly one of, if not the most, detailed and comprehensive commentaries on Deuteronomy available today. In addition to the verse by verse explanations (which comprise the majority of the content) there are three other sections of material that are extremely beneficial. The first is the introductory material which thoroughly covers the themes, date and background of the book, its’ composition and history and its role in the ongoing Jewish tradition. The second section is a collection of thirty-three excurses. The excurses alone, numbering more than one hundred pages, are invaluable additions to any students’ library. Some of these deal with issues from specific passages of scripture, for example, “The Ceremony of the Broken-Necked Heifer 21:1-9;” while others focus on more general or wide-ranging topics such as “The Historical Geography of Deuteronomy.” The third substantial section of the commentary is the notes that are included for the introduction, the main commentary and the excurses. Along with providing the standard citation sources, they also include extremely helpful comments concerning the nuances of the passage/translations, punctuation and grammar and additional interpretive perspectives. The majority of the text is comprised of verse-by-verse material commenting on the text.

It would be incorrect to say that this portion of the work is limited relative to that of Bruegemann. However, this is one area is which their distinctive approaches are most apparent. Tigay seems to view Deuteronomy solely in light of the reforms of Josiah and he writes with that historical context in mind. Conversely, in this regard, Brueggemann is considerably more concise is his summary of the current scholarly arguments; and instead of primarily taking a socio-historical approach, he leans towards working through the text by drawing the reader to consider literary, theological and ethical aspects. With regard to the history of the formation of Deuteronomy, Brueggemann offers three rather concise explanations of sources and then proceeds to move quickly ahead: (1) Levitical source which emphasizes the authority of the priests regarding the Torah, (2) a prophetic source that focuses on Israel’s special union with YHWH, (3) and a scribal source (p.20-21).

Where Tigay provides a line-by-line explanation of the text, grammar, syntax and philology, Brueggemann (as previously mentioned) focuses his attention on the theological and ethical dimensions of the text. In fact, one of the greater strengths of Brueggemann’s work is the manner in which he uses the biblical text as a means by which to speak a theological message into the current culture, specifically for the Christian and Jewish context. An example of this is found in his comments on p. 89-91 where he is speaking of Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (The Greatest Commandment). Within this context, Brueggemann invites the reader to connect this Deuteronomy text with the “costly summons to discipleship . . .” and the manner in which “the same command to love Jesus issues in the same uncompromising demand of obedience”—i.e. theology and ethics.

This being said, we should not presume that Brueggemann altogether ignores or fails to offer any exegetical analysis. On the contrary, he begins each scriptural section with an entry titles “Exegetical Analysis.” The primary differences from Tigay here are that he does not insist upon following a verse-by-verse treatment. Instead, Brueggeman is comfortable in dealing with each passage pericope by pericope (and does so following the theological breaks in the text itself). Nor does he interest himself in much, if any, technical points of grammar and the like. These two features provide offer a greater readability—which is sure to endear the work to laypersons, pastors/teachers and introductory students of theology.

Perhaps the greatest strength on Brueggemann is the manner in which he brings together the theological and ethical dimensions of the text to form something of a “public theology” where he highlights the nature in which Deuteronomy serves to inform the Israelites how they ought to live out their lives as a response to God’s blessings as His chosen people. In that regard, Brueggemann highlights several different sociological ethical points that, as was previously mentioned, are especially relevant in today’s post-modern culture (though it is likely that Brueggemann may have not been specifically interested in addressing this audience). For example, with regard to our consumer-driven influences, he states that the “warning issued in this text does not seem remote from the circumstance of the faithful in a society as affluent and secure as in the United States. Ours is an economy of abundance that lives by an ideology of satiation” (p.91). Similarly, he comments on immigrant communities (p.111) and environmentalism (p.74).

Conversely, where Brueggemann provides the greatest benefit to the reader by “connecting dots” so to speak to the modern culture, Tigay’s greatest advantage is the depth with which he seeks to explore the very items that Brueggemann glosses over (i.e. grammar, syntax and philology). Ultimately though, despite their differences in approach and strength, both works provide a great benefit to the serious student of Deuteronomy.

 

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Reconciling the Texts: 1 Corinthians 11:4-16; 14:34-35

Reconciling the Texts: 1 Corinthians 11:4-16; 14:34-35

 

INTRODUCTION

 

There has been, for some time, a growing tension within the Churches of Christ regarding several doctrinal issues that have otherwise been points of clarity and definition for the denomination. Not the least of these is the understanding of the roles afforded to women (according to the Scriptures) within the formal assemblies. In many instances this tension has grown into conflict that has even divided individual congregations.

For this group of Christians to attain some sense of unity called for in the Scriptures, it seems that we are beckoned back to the Scriptures in order to re-examine our previous understanding and assumptions. Have we correctly understood the formative texts for this issue? Whether we determine to maintain our present course or alter our position(s) seems to be less relevant, in terms of unity, than our willingness to allow one another the voice to ask the difficult questions.

Perhaps as the “Introduction” affords some leniency towards a greater sense of informality, I ought to take advantage of the opportunity for greater transparency. I do not wish to attempt to plow new ground on this issue. And after having read much of what the scholars have to say, it seems unlikely that there are many more original thoughts to be added to the discussion—unless of course some new information is brought to light. Instead, I must return to my previous line of thinking and make some minor corrections. For me to find some degree of unity with my faith heritage and at least some degree of integrity with my faith, it is absolutely imperative that I re-examine my previous understanding and assumptions on this issue. The correct question is this: have I correctly understood the formative texts for this issue? And, regardless of what conclusion the research leads me to, it is crucial that I find my own voice in this discussion.

That having been said, and with that approach at the forefront of my thinking, this paper will seek to examine two of the preeminent texts on this issue—1 Corinthians 11:4-16 and 14:34-35 (which, along with 1 Timothy 2:11-14, are the primary texts which restrict women in their and activity in the church—particularly in public leadership roles).

CONTEXT AND SETTING

The letter itself reveals much of the context of these passages. Throughout the course of the letter, Paul is dealing with several different issues that the Corinthian church appears to have been struggling with. Paul seems to have learned about these many issues from two different sources. First, a letter had been sent from the Christians in Corinth. Second, some representatives from the church in Corinth had visited him—likely either Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (16:17), or messengers from Chloe’s household (1:11).

Paul maintained a patterned formula for responding to a question or issue raised within the letter. This formula is brought out for the first time in 7:1 when he writes: Περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατε (now concerning what you wrote). He also uses the Περὶ δὲ (now concerning) formula in 7:25; 8:1; 12:1 and 16:1. Each of these indicates a new question, idea or issue that he is seeking to address. For example in 7:25, he writes to the unmarried women; in 8:1 he changes to write about food offered to idols; in 12:1 he moves to spiritual gifts and finally in 16:1 to the collection for the saints.

The two passages, 1 Corinthians 11:4-16 and 14:34-35, are imbedded within two different, yet thematically connected units of scripture. We’ll begin with addressing the context of chapter eleven. In this chapter Paul takes up two separate issues (head coverings and the Lord’s Supper) that are linked together by the phrase Ἐπαινῶ ὑμᾶς (I praise you). In 11:2 Paul begins his comments on head coverings with Ἐπαινῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς (Now I praise you). In 11:17 Paul begins his rebuke for mishandling the Lord’s Supper with Τοῦτο δὲ παραγγέλλων οὐκ ἐπαινῶ (Now with these instructions I do not praise you). 

Concerning the complicated issue of head coverings, Paul praises them because they had remembered what he had taught them and dealt with the issue in a proper manner. And in such a diverse locale as Corinth, the use of a cultural symbol of head covering may naturally become a point of contention within the church. It is for this reason that Paul is commending or praising the manner in which they handled this issue. Paul then goes on to elaborate and provide specific direction. Concerning the men, he says that they are to uncover their head while praying and prophesying so as to honor their head who is Christ (11:4, 7). Contrary to the men, women are directed to pray and prophesy with their head covered so that they might properly honor their head who is man (11:5, 10). For Paul, the issue is cultural and was one of honor or dishonor. The proper cultural respect (i.e. honor) must be shown to one’s head. For man, he must honor Christ; and for woman, she must honor man. Though the principle of honor and dishonor was primarily a cultural manifestation, Paul also draws from the creation in order to illustrate his point (11:8-10). However, in 11:11-12, Paul is quick to remind the reader that woman’s position relative to man should not be taken advantage of. Paul’s overall point with this commentary is to ensure that the Corinthians understand the necessity of honoring one’s head because of the way God created humankind as male and female (11:3, 7-8). As a result, the woman must be sure that when she does pray and prophesy she does so in the culturally accepted manner of honoring her head—by covering her own head.

Following his rebuke for mishandling the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), Paul transitions into a longer discussion on the use and abuse of spiritual gifts (chapters 12-14). In doing so he uses the aforementioned Περὶ δὲ (now concerning), indicating that he is responding to an issue that was first brought up in a written correspondence from the Corinthian church. It seems clear that the misuse and misunderstanding of their spiritual gifts was a significant concern for Paul. In chapter fourteen he addresses the problems in the context of their public assembly together (i.e. 14:23, 26) that may also include outside visitors who are not among the church (14:24).

Paul is most concerned with two particular spiritual gifts—speaking in tongues and prophesying (14:27-33, 39). Concerning those who would speak in tongues he gives the direction that at most two are three should speak and in so doing they must take turns and there must be an interpreter present (14:27-28). Concerning prophesying, he gives similar directions that no more than two or three should speak and that there should be another prophet available to “weigh what is said” (14:29). In 14:34 Paul provides specific prohibition for women who would speak in the assembly (women are to remain silent). Paul attaches to his direction, a general directive in 14:33b that the instructions are consistent throughout all the church of the saints. He offers two explanations in support of his directive. First, it is a matter of submission—as if to say that for a woman to speak in whatever context he has in mind, would violate this principle of submissiveness to man. Second, he refers back to the cultural phenomenon of shame; saying that it is “shameful for a woman to speak in church” (11:34-35).

Based upon this brief highlighting of these two passages it is clear that a contradiction exists. In 11:5 Paul assumes (and even approves) that women will be active participants in the assembly and will engage in prayer and prophecy. The only issue is that they adhere to cultural mores of honoring their head. However, in 14:33b-35 Paul provides a clear directive prohibiting women from speaking at all in the assembly, commenting that this is the standard behavior for in all churches. Is Paul forbidding in 14:33b-35 what he just approved in 11:5? Assuming the answer is “no,” then how should these texts be understood? And further, what (if any) direction does this leave for the modern Christian today relative to women’s roles?

INTERPRETING THE TEXTS

There is no shortage of possibilities that have already been offered and argued concerning this problem. The purpose of this essay is not to add to that list. Without additional information coming to light it seems clear that the full range of alternative interpretations have already been shared. At this point we will endeavor to “weed through” the explanations, highlight the arguments for and against each and then attempt a determination based upon those arguments.

It’s helpful at this point to realize that the primary interpretive challenge is to locate the best understanding that permits women to pray and prophecy according to 11:5. Again, as was just mentioned, we are working with the assumption that Paul would not have contradicted himself in such a glaring manner (and especially in such proximity). So the question remains, what exactly did Paul mean when he said that “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission as the law says?”

The explanations are listed in no particular order.

  1. Paul is quoting opponents in Corinth who are maintaining a traditionalist perspective. According to this argument, Paul understands that when he affirmed women’s right and responsibilities to share their spiritual gifts in 11:5, he is doing so in contradiction with some traditionalists in Corinth—particularly among the Jewish Christians. In this case he is quoting and responding, as was his habit. The quote is 14:34-35, and his response is found in 14:36, “Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” Of particular note is that in this instance is that the pronouns are masculine. With that being said, Paul’s retort makes a little more sense: “Or was it from you (men) that the word of God came? Or are you (men) the only ones it has reached?” In this case, Paul would be clearly arguing against, presumed traditional Jewish Christians who believe that the women should have no role in the assembly.

However, one of the main difficulties of this interpretation is that there is no actual indication that 14:26 is addressed only to men. That the Greek uses a masculine gender pronoun does not necessarily preclude Paul from including women in the discussion. Also, according to D.A. Carson, this argument does not meet Paul’s standard criteria and pattern for providing a quotation of and a subsequent defense. Specifically, Carson states that this would be the longest quotation from Paul’s opponents in the letter with the shortest response. With Paul’s writings there is simply no example or precedent for a quotation with such a detailed argument. According to Carson, when Paul quotes an opponent it is usually short and then followed by a “sustained qualification,” and Paul’s response is unambiguous in the context.

  1. The text is simply a concession by Paul, in order to accommodate cultural mores and/or rabbinic practices. Paul was simply following the normal accepted practices of the synagogues, where women did not take an active role, so that he would not offend any of the Jewish Christians that were worshipping in Corinth. While their native Greek counterparts may have not been disturbed by a woman’s voice in the assembly, Jewish decorum and cultural etiquette created difficulties for female involvement. To further this point it is important to note that at no time did Paul (in this text or in 1 Timothy 2:8ff) ever state or imply that it was sinful for a woman to speak; he specifically says that it is shameful. In this regard it can be argued that Paul sees this issue similarly to head-covering in chapter 11—a matter of honor and shame.

While this argument is viable and these evidences are noteworthy, they are not without difficulty. In 14:34, Paul uses the weight of the Law to reinforce his point (though strangely for him, he does fail to offer any specific quote). Would Paul make references to the Law to support a claim that is in opposition to what he has just previously written? This seems unlikely. Also, when Paul does refer to the Law it is in relation, not to his honor and shame argument, but instead that women should be in submission.

  1. Paul is arguing that women are not to participate in the judging of the prophets. In this instance his prohibition is specific and limited to prophecy (and perhaps speaking in tongues). In fact, the wider context of the passage seems to be pointing in this direction. More specifically, Paul is admonishing the Corinthian church to maintain order in the worship, particularly when it comes to their members sharing their spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues. Paul directs them to ensure that there are interpreters present and other prophets available to weigh what is said (14:28-29). It would stand to reason that when Paul prohibits women from speaking, the specific context would be instrumental in a proper interpretation. Thus, the prohibition is aimed at (and limited to) women who would seek to interpret tongues and/or weigh prophecies shared with the church.

It would seem that Paul was allowing women to prophecy (11:5) but not permitting them to weigh the prophecy because this would involve them in a teaching function in the assembly. And in accordance with Paul’s direction in 1 Timothy 2:12, it is clear that women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men. Also, women are not allowed to ask questions during this time because that may be perceived as judging.

However, there are difficulties with this interpretation. First, it is problematic to conclude that prophesying, which Paul allows in 11:5, would not be considered teaching (presumably because it is done under the auspices of spiritual giftedness), while the weighing of prophecies would be considered teaching or having authority (which would also be a manifestation of the gift of prophecy). At best, that conclusion is troublesome. Second, in order to connect the judging or weighing in 14:29 to what Paul states in 14:34, one must skip past 14:33a, which can be viewed as presenting a closure to the discussion—and 14:33b then would be the beginning of a new topic, sentence or line of thinking. Thirdly, the verb lalelo (to speak) is also deserving of consideration. This interpretive choice inherently defines lalelo to include only speech that involves weighing or judging. Not only is this not the dominant definition, it is entirely inconsistent with the manner in which Paul has been using the word.

  1. Paul is specifically censuring the incessant shouting and wailing of women that were known to be a part of Greco-Roman cults in Corinth. The internal evidences alone indicate strong influences of pagan cults in the Corinthian church. Making this connection to those same influences in this regard is not difficult. And it is possible that  lalelo (to speak) may simply refer to unintelligible speech or babbling.

However, this having been said, the context does not necessarily agree with this assessment of lalelo. Instead, it seems that the context argues for intelligible speech. And again, this is not the normal definition of the word. Other than asking questions (14:35), there is absolutely no textual evidence which would suggest that any women were being disruptive. Nevertheless, assume that Kroeger’s assertions are accurate; and Paul was responding to a group of women who transferred their pagan rituals from their previous religious practices into the church assembly. This still fails to explain why Paul would enjoin this directive to all the “churches of the saints.” Are we to conclude that cultic babbling and wailing was also a troublesome point of contention in the churches in Jerusalem?

  1. Paul is prohibiting all public speaking, whether inspired or uninspired, by women that would cause them to exercise any leadership in the assembly. This interpretive approach is likely the most common among the fundamentalist “branch” of evangelicals. This is particularly true within the mainstream Churches of Christ. In a modern context, this prohibition is extended to include all forms of audible communication so that women are not allowed to ask questions, lead prayer, lead in singing (in any fashion), read Scripture or share any spiritual gift.

Of course, one need not look far to find difficulty with this interpretive approach. To take such the censuring to such an extreme, either invalidates Paul’s previous comments in 11:5 or renders Paul as inconsistent and contradictory—condemning what he just affirmed and encouraged. Any value with this interpretation rests solely on the extent to which it can be reconciled with 11:5.

  1. The text in question, 14:34-35 is a post-Pauline, scribal interpolation. Early in the textual history of 1 Corinthians a scribe added a marginal gloss to the text so that it may be harmonized with 1 Timothy 2:8-15. At a later date the text was placed in its current location. The Western manuscript provides evidence that some scribes inserted the marginal gloss after verse 40 (at the end of the chapter); which would make sense to place it at the end of the chapter if it was being included after the text was already written. It seems clear that at some point a scribe decided to insert the two verses into their current location, and in the process created a multitude of interpretive dilemmas that have yet been resolved. There are three specific evidences supporting this interpretation. First, it is in direct contradiction to 11:5; and explaining the contradiction requires, at best, biblical gymnastics. Second, the two verses interrupt the flow of the context. Third, the phrase “as the Law also says,” is foreign to Paul.

While this interpretation is argued well by it’s defenders and has ample evidence in favor of it, there is no textual tradition that supports the claim for these verses not being original. Every manuscript available today includes these verses.

INTERPRETIVE PRINCIPLES

There are three keys that will be helpful in proceeding towards the most accurate interpretation and understanding of these texts. First, there is no worthwhile evidence which suggests that the two different texts represent instructions for separate assemblies—Paul was in fact referring to one general or generic assembly in each of these passages. Referring to the two passages in chapter eleven (11:2-16 and 11:17-34), Paul does not use his customary Περὶ δὲ (which would indicate a response to a written question or concern) in either verse two or verse seventeen. This would seem to indicate that he is responding to information that was shared by some of his visitors from Corinth. In 11:2 Paul praises them for maintaining the traditions; while in 11:17 he says that he will not praise or commend them. The use of the word παραδοσισ in verses two and twenty-three connect these two passages together under a single theme. After discussing the troubling idea of pagan worship in 10:14-22, Paul gives his attention to proper Christian worship in 11:2-14:40. Because there is such a clear symmetry, and because there are no breaks in thought or context, the appropriate conclusion here is that Paul is referring to the same general assembly.

Further, the content of the text assumes that Paul is referring to a public and mixed assembly. Paul is focusing on male and female relationships within the context of praying and prophesying (activities that take place during the Corinthian worship). Prophesying is never intended to be a private experience but for the entire gathered church. It is something that happens “through believers in the context of the church where prophecy may be evaluated” (14:23-29). Additionally, 11:16 clearly demonstrates that this was a concern for the entire assembly, not merely a portion of it.

Also, if in 11:2-16 (where Paul affirms women praying and prophesying), he was supposedly referring to a divided assembly, then why would it be necessary for Paul to instruct women to pray and prophesy with their heads covered. If there were no men present in this assembly then there would be no reason to honor her husband or father by keeping her head covered. For Paul, the issue of head-covering is based solely on public propriety and scruples (i.e the honor/shame phenomenon). Simply put, the restriction Paul places on the women is “coherent only in a public setting,”

Second, there is no reason to conclude that Paul would ever forbid in chapter fourteen that which he has just permitted in chapter eleven. It is difficult enough to entertain the idea that Paul would contradict himself in the first place, however, to do so in such proximity and on such a weighty matter makes the idea preposterous. As much as Interpretation #5 may appear to be reasonable (perhaps even the most reasonable), it must be rejected because it cannot adequately answer the tension between chapters eleven and fourteen.

The third interpretive key is that any interpretation which suggests that Paul does not authorize women to pray and prophecy in chapter eleven ought to be rejected as fundamentally flawed. First of all, there is no hint, or evidence, of any disapproval in Paul’s comments concerning women’s participation as prophets and prayer leaders. In fact, it is worthwhile to draw our attention back to Acts 2:17-18 where Peter clearly expressed an expectation for a female prophetic voice. Also, Paul’s leading comments which introduce this passage reveal a total approval of the actions of the Corinthians. He was commending them for the way in which they maintained the traditions that had been handed down to them. Clearly, among those traditions was the active practice of prophecy—from both males and females. Paul’s only corrective was for them to ensure that they adhered to the cultural decorum of honoring their heads.

1 Corinthians 11:10 provides additional noteworthy evidence. When Paul directs men to pray and prophecy he says that a man “ought not to cover his head” (11:7). However, when he directs women on how to pray and prophecy he does not mention covering their heads. Instead, he says that ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς (they should have authority on their head). Why the difference in the language? Why not just say that men should not cover their and women are to cover their head. This interesting caveat should not be dismissed lightly. In fact, it seems to be worth an extra measure of scrutiny. The principle word, authority, is εξουσια; and it is in the active voice, not the passive. If it were in the passive then it ought to be translated and interpreted to indicate that while wearing a covering she wears the sign of her husband or father’s authority. The key is that the authority does not belong to her. Instead, since it is in the active voice the translation and interpretation changes to describe her as the one having the authority. This is certainly an awkward and challenging translation. Help is found by looking to Paul’s other uses of authority in 1 Corinthians. Of the nine times Paul uses this word (in 1 Corinthians) eight are clearly in reference to the person having the right or authority to make a choice. For example, between 9:4-9:18 Paul uses the word five times referring to his rights as an Apostle. In the same manner it seems that Paul is stating that the woman who is properly covered has the right to pray and prophecy in the assembly.

CONCLUSION

Assuming that there are no additional (viable) points to consider and that all the information has been brought forth by the literature, then I am at something of an impasse. While some of these options seem to have more validity than others, it is clear that each potential interpretive choice carries objections and difficulties that cannot be answered—at least not fully answered. An observation worth noting at this point is that any conclusion reached must be approached with caution and not a great deal of confidence. To do otherwise idles on foolish considering that the learned scholars that have weighed in on the issue are not close to an agreement (they can’t even narrow the choices to three or fewer).

This having been said, the fundamental challenge with these two texts is that if 14:34-35 are taken literally or at face value there is a stark contradiction with 11:5, where Paul clearly authorizes women to speak (in the form of prophesying and praying). If I am to believe that Paul did indeed write these texts, then there must be an explanation for 14:34-35. In other words, he could not have literally meant that 1) women are not permitted to speak in the assembly and 2) that was the normal expectation for all the churches. At this point, we return to the aforementioned problem that no interpretation sets itself apart from the others. This leaves the interpreter with trying to pick out the interpretation that has been picked apart the least by the scholars; not exactly the most promising method of scholarship.

At this point, one option remains—that the text in 14:34-35 is an interpolation by a post-Pauline editor. It should be said immediately that this interpretation is taken with a great deal of trepidation.  It is conceded from the start that each of these following arguments are not without challenges.

  1. The text in 14:26-40 makes more sense without vss. 34-35.
  2. Without a certain understanding on what Paul would have meant, we are left with an obvious contradiction to 11:5. As has been demonstrated, any attempt to explain this contradiction is met, at best, with difficult arguments to reconcile; and at worse, the interpreter is left performing biblical gymnastics which further distorts the understanding of the text.
  3. 14:34-35 contains language and idioms that are foreign to confirmed Pauline texts.

At the most basic level, the one certainty which can be concluded from this study is that to use 14:34-35 as a proof-text to prohibit women from utilizing their spiritual gifts in the assembly is misguided and actually limits the involvement of the Holy Spirit.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allison, Robert W. “Let Women Be Silent in the Churches (1 Corinthians 14:33b-36): What Did

Paul Really Say, and What Did It Mean?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (1988), 27-60.  

 

Barrett, C.K. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Black’s New Testament

Commentary. New York: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1993.

 

Bilezekian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study of Female Roles in the Bible.

Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1985.

 

Bittlinger, Arnold. Gifts and Graces, A Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12-14. Grand Rapids,

Eerdmans, 1967.

 

Burge, Gary M., Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green.  The New Testament in Antiquity:   A Survey of the New Testament within its Cultural Contexts.  Grand Rapids:   Zondervan, 2009.

 

Conzelmann, Hanz. First Corinthians: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible.

Hermenia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988.

 

Danby, Herbert. The Mishnah. Oxford: University Press, 1933.

 

Day, Linda and Carolyn Pressler, eds.  Engaging the Bible in a Gendered World:  An Introduction to Feminist Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Katharine Doob Sakenfeld.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

 

Evans, Mary J. Woman in the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1983.

 

Fee, Gordon D.  Galatians: Pentecostal Commentary.  Edited by John C. Thomas.  Blandford Forum: Deo, 2007.

 

__________. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New

Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.

 

Flanagan, Neil M. “Did Paul Put Down Women in 1 Corinthians 14:34-36?” Biblical Theology

Bulletin 11 (1981): 10-12.

 

Frymer-Kensky, Tikva.  Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism.  JPS Scholar of Distinction Series.  Philadelphia:  Jewish Publication Society, 2006.

 

Gruden, Wayne.  Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth:  An Analysis of More than 100 Disputed Questions.  Sisters:  Multnomah, 2004.

 

Hicks, John Mark. “Worship in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40: The Injunction of Silence.” Image 5

(August 1989): 24ff.

Hommes, N.J. “Let Women Be Silent in Church: A Message Concerning the Worship Service

and the Decorum to be Observed by Women.” Calvin Theological Journal 4 (1969): 11.

 

Hooker, M.D. “Authority on Her Head: An Examination of 1 Corinthians 11:10.” New

Testament Studies 10 (1963):410-416.

 

House, H. Wayne. “The Speaking of Women and the Prohibition of the Law.” Bibliotheca Sacra

145 (1988): 309.

 

Howard, J. Keir. “Neither Male nor Female: An Examination of the Status of Women in the New

Testament.” Evangelical Quarterly 55 (1983): 31-42.

 

Jervis, L. Ann. “1 Corinthians 14:34-35: A Reconsideration of Paul’s Limitation of the Free

Speech of Some Corinthian Women.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 58

(1995): 72-73.

 

Jewett, Paul K. “No Male and Female…” Reformed Journal 24, no. 5 (May 1, 1974): 24–6.   Cited 21 February 2013.  Online:  http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct =true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001838232&site=ehost-live.

 

Knight III, George W. The Role Relationship of Men & Women: New Testament Teaching. 2nd

  1. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985.

 

Kroeger, Catherine and Richard Kroeger. “Pandemonium and Silence at Corinth.” Reformed

Journal 20 (1978): 11-15.

 

Kroeger, Catherine. “The Apostle Paul and the Greco-Roman Cults of Women.” The Journal of

the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987): 29-30.

 

Kroeger, Catherine Clark and Mary J. Evans, eds.  The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary.   Downers Grove:  IVP, 2002.

 

Lancaster, Sarah Heaner.  Women and the Authority of Scripture:  A Narrative Approach.   New York: Continuum, 2002.

 

Longenecker, Richard N.  Galatians.  Vol. 41 of Word Biblical Commentary.  Edited by David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, John D. W. Watts, and Ralph P. Martin.  Dallas:  Word Books, 1990.

 

Malina, Bruce. New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. 3rd ed. Westminster:

John Knox Press, 2001.

 

Martin, Dale. B.  Sex and the Single Savior:  Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation.   Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

McKenzie, Steven L.  How to Read the Bible:  History, Prophecy, Literature – Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What it Means for Faith Today.  New York:   Oxford University Press, 2009.

 

McKenzie, Steven L. and Stephen R. Haynes, eds. To Each Its Own Meaning:  An Introduction to Biblical Criticism and their Application.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

 

Meyers, Rick.  e-Sword, a DVD version of the application available on www.e-sword.net.

 

Murphy-O’Connor, J. “Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42

(1980): 482-500.

 

__________. “Interpolations in 1 Corinthians.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48 (1986):

90-92.

 

Newsom, Carol A., Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds. Women’s Bible Commentary. 3d ed.  Edited by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley.  Louisville: WJK, 2012.  

 

Odell-Scott, D.W. “Let Women Speak in Church: An Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 13 (1983): 90-93.

 

__________. “In Defense of an Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36: A Reply

to Murphy-O’Connor’s Critique,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 17 (1987): 100-103.

 

Oster, Richard. “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Context of 1 Corinthians 11.4.” New

Testament Studies 34 (1988):481-505.

 

Piper, John and Wayne Grudem, eds.  Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:  A Response to Evangelical Feminism.  Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.   Wheaton:  Crossway, 1991.

 

Ramsay, W.R. The Cities of Paul. New York: Hooder & Stoughton, 1907.

 

Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth, ed.  A Feminist Commentary.  Vol. 2 of Searching the Scriptures.   Edited by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.  New York: Crossroad, 1998.

 

__________.  A Feminist Introduction.  Vol. 1 of Searching the Scriptures.  Edited by Elisabeth

Schüssler Fiorenza.  New York: Crossroad, 1993.

 

__________.  Bread Not Stone:  The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation.  Boston:

Beacon Press, 1985.

 

__________.  Rhetoric and Ethic:  The Politics of Biblical Studies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press,

1999.

 

__________.  In Memory of Her:  A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins.  

New York:  Crossroad, 1995.

 

__________. “Women in the Pre-Pauline and Pauline Churches.” Union Seminary Quarterly

Review 33, no. 3–4 (March 1, 1978): 153–66. Cited 22 February 2013.  Online: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN =ATLA0000767229&site=eds-live.

 

Thompson, Cynthia. “Hairstyles, Head-Coverings and St. Paul.” Biblical Archeologist 51 (1988):

99-115.

 

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Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church

Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, from the series Sources of Early Christian Thought is a terrific contribution to any library of biblical interpretation texts. The editor and translator, Karlfried Froehllich, has organized the material into ten chapters. The first chapter is an extended introduction. This is followed by translations of texts ranging from the pre-Christian Rabbis, to Origen, to Irenaeus  and  concluding with Tyconius.

The most valuable portion of this text is the certainly the Introduction. Within the Introduction, Froehlich provides a review of the manner in which different groups have sought to understand and interpret the Holy Scriptures. Beginning with the Jews, he reviews the Jewish canon and Jewish hermeneutics. Following this he takes up a review of three primary witnesses to methods of Jewish interpretation: the Rabbis, the Qumran community and the Diaspora. Though this portion in particular is a little dated (the author refers to the council of Jamnia prior to the work by Lewis which disputes certain assumptions), it is nonetheless quite helpful becaue it provides a glimpse into how these formative groups viewed and treated their Holy Scriptures. Specifically, Froehlich describes with some clarity the purpose of the Rabbis and how they were seeking to use the Scriptures to help solve legal questions and facilitate daily living; and how the Qumran community was preoccupied with an eschatological approach and the Diaspora were influenced strongly by their Hellenistic culture. While these groups do not provide the modern Christian with a definitive method for approaching the Old Testament, they do however cast a great spotlight on a specific principle which will addressed momentarily.

In treating the first century and first generation Christian interpreters, the author seeks to highlight the importance that allegory and specifically typology played—particularly in reference to Paul. However, the most important point of this section is taken from the following statement: “Emerging as a community independent of Judaism, Christians of many backgrounds now started to appropriate the Jewish Scriptures as thesir own, being taught to read them as a hidden witness to God’s new covenant with humankind in the Lord Jesus Christ” (p.10). This seems to be particularly important for the modern Christian in that it provides an example to follow emulate—taking ownership of the Scriptures and seeking to make them your own, relative to your own culture and circumstances.

There are essentially two principles that one can easily understand by reviewing the pre-Christian communities and the leading thinkers of the first four centuries is really quite simple: first, it was largely dictated by their culture and circumstances that the group was facing. Second, there is clearly not a divinely inspired method with which the modern interpreter can grab hold of with a great deal of confidence.

Beginning with the second century, the great diversity of opinions on and approaches to the Scriptures began to reveal itself. So much so, that a dual approach began to develop that was based largely on geography. It is in many respects surprising to find the great diversity that existed then. It is equally alarming today to find the lack of appreciation, if not fear, for diversity among some groups of Christians. For that matter, that same negative attitude and approach towards diversity in interpretative methods was cemented generations earlier. For the modern Christian, the question remains: how to deal with the difference of opinions and approaches to interpreting and understanding the Scriptures. For now, these questions remain unanswered. However, one thing can be made certain, the clarity that many people find comfort in is actually much more cloudy than they may realize.

 

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How to Read the Bible

 

Given the nature of the content, How to Read the Bible, by Steven McKenzie is a surprisingly quick and easy read. In fact, it seems as though McKenzie went out of his way to ensure that all readers (including serious students and scholars) could enjoy and benefit from his research and collected thoughts. McKenzie’s underlying premise is that the modern reader often misses the primary point of scripture simply because he approaches the text with the wrong assumptions and presuppositions. In other words, the modern reader often reads the Bible through the lens of literal history, when in fact, it rarely actually takes that form of literature.

McKenzie begins with a case study of Jonah to demonstrate the importance of genre in biblical interpretation. In so doing, he successfully redirected readers’ attention to the fundamental method and message of the book and away from failed attempts to explain and justify the events of the story as purely historical. Once he presented and defended his case for the importance of genre, he redirected his attention to a discussion of form criticism.

The book is broken down into five chapters where the author dedicates each chapter to a review and discussion of various genres found in the biblical literature— history, prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, and epistles. Specifically, he sets out to demonstrate exactly how that type of literature (by primarily utilizing the Old Testament text) ought to be read and understood; along with also seeking to show the biblical student what are the most common mistakes made when dealing with that type of literature.

In his discussion on historiography, the author highlights the idea that the biblical writers were motivated by etiological means—that is, the effort to seek to explain the cause or origin of something; where the “primary objective of ancient history writing was to ‘render an account’ of the past that explained the present.” In doing so, he walks the reader through various texts in Genesis. One potential flaw on the part of the author is to focus too narrowly on the etiological influences and ignore the theological imports; which often demonstrate themselves in applications of the text. For example, in his discussion of the Tower of Babel incident, McKenzie concludes, “Its intent is to provide an explanation for the origins of the different human languages and cultures associated with them” (p. 39). While this is true, the story is also meant (if not primarily meant) to demonstrate the theological point that sin had created a separation between humans and God.

In the chapter on biblical prophecy, McKenzie explains how prophets exhorted their audiences through the use of predictions of curses or blessings in the immediate future, not so-called prophecies of events in the distant future. This chapter also provides an insightful examination of the manner in which the New Testament authors utilize Old Testament prophecy and reinterpret the text to serve their own specific needs. For example, the Gospel of Matthew reinterprets Isaiah Christologically, even though it is clear that Isaiah was actually referring to an event that was to take place in the immediate future. In this regard McKenzie attempts to demonstrate the actual nature of the use of both the Old and New Testament prophets; and to refute the implications and assertions modern interpreters. At this point, he is essentially pulling the rug out from under most “traditional” church-goers who have consistently identified Isaiah’s text as supremely Christological in nature. To that extent, he may have done well to help his reader make this change a little easier.

In this same light, the following chapter was difficult for this self-appointed traditionalist, where McKenzie effectively laid bare all preconceived notions on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Specifically referring to the Proverbs, after revealing multiple inconsistencies in the nature of the proverbs he addresses them by stating that “there was no single ‘right’ way of looking at things. There was disagreement, because life was and is complex, and circumstances fluctuate. What may be true for one person or a given situation is not necessarily universally so.” After addressing both Job and Qoheleth in much the same manner, McKenzie concludes the chapter and reconciles these issues by explaining that it is the intent of the literature to present “the debate and thereby to license the reader to search for his or her own answers.”

The text is concluded with chapters on the nature of the final two genres: apocalyptic and epistles. McKenzie remains consistent with his approach to reveal the actual nature and nuances of the texts and thereby allowing the reader to approach the scriptures with a greater appreciation for understanding the nature of literature and genres in the Bible. Even given the wealth of specific examples, this remains by the greatest benefit to the reader.

In a work directed at a popular audience, periodic reference to further resources and summaries of reading strategies would have been a useful addition. The book concludes with endnotes—many of which elaborate on ideas introduced in the body of the work—as well as a bibliography and a subject index. In How to Read the Bible, Steven McKenzie has made genre analysis accessible to a wide audience and in so doing has provided readers with a useful way to read the Bible intelligently for personal enjoyment and spiritual benefit.

 

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How Your Church Family Works

Church’s are like families.  Not necessarily a comforting thought.

In “How Your Church Family Works,” Peter L. Steinke describes how all families, be it a congregation or a home, works with the reality of anxiety. As Steinke observes, “Put people together and inevitably anxiety will arise.” A number of variables can trigger anxiety. For example, a new minister, declining membership, financial strategizing, changes in worship styles, long-range visioning, and death in the church family.  However the anxiety arises, it will flow and settle in a relationship system in potentially predictable ways.  Typically, the most responsible and most vulnerable people are affected most. Thus, this book is particularly useful to clergy, like me, who are prone to be the ones taking responsibility for everything that happens.

Steinke explains that congregations have patterns and roles of relating that “handle” anxiety. For example, someone works really hard to make everyone else happy.  Someone else “acts out” to get attention and assert control in the midst of uncertainty. Someone else quietly removes himself to stay out of conflict. Someone else floats along thinking eventually “God will work it all out,” hoping to shield himself from feeling the tensions.

The author also points out that understanding how people and systems are interconnected can make us aware of more helpful ways of responding to the situations we face as a church. Specifically, it is important to recognize that there is more going on in any situation than what is immediately taking place.

We all need to be reminded, and Steinke consistently does so, that anxiety is not only inevitable, it is also not necessarily bad. Anxiety is the energy and friction we have when operating with others in the midst of change. As a child, we’ve all gone through, in one form or another, “growing pains.”  Change is painful. Still, the pain of change gives a person the chance to grow stronger.  In a similar way, anxiety can lead to life-giving, relationship-enhancing outcomes when handled purposefully and properly.  In fact, stress on a system can indicate that the system is not working well and needs to be adjusted.

The author notes that we can respond to anxiety in two basic ways:  reactively or purposefully.  For example, shock at the news of a death is a reactive response.  We don’t practice or prepare for shock.  However, when we limited ourselves to our reactions, only ever reacting to stress and anxiety in the same way over time, we can establish life-draining behaviors that hinder a system. It is not healthy to live “shocked” for the rest of one’s life.  Other responses are called for to live well after the tragedy of death.

Two basic reactions are at work in each of us:  we are prone to a) alienate ourselves from others or b) lock-on to others. The healthy person is able to “self-differentiate,” that is, balance these poles by being with others but not so connected that he or she “loses herself.”

It is clear that this “theory” might help us choose intentional ways of structuring our church practices and relationships. For example, gossip is an unhealthy, and often times reactive response to anxious situations. It establishes “triangles” which erects and reinforces barriers; barriers which can dismantle trusting relationships needed for a church to function well. Open, honest, direct communication is important.  So a church, aware of this, might foster “covenants of communication” between staff members and within church committees. Gossip would be named and avoided. Or, to promote self-differentiation, a church might cultivate practices of “staying with ourselves” in which we claim our feelings, emotions, and ideas in conversations; rather than blame or impose ourselves on others.

The book is full of wisdom on leadership, identifying actors and roles in emotional systems, and navigating church-specific practices with systems theory.  I found the book insightful, helpful, and illuminating (albeit a little dry and tedious reading).  While no theory can ever fully explain a situation, it can provide an orientation to human relationships which fosters attention, sensitivity, self-awareness, and commitment to the well-being of all.

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God-Fearing Children

I often wondered about my place and role in my child’s life. How much influence do I have? How much are they really listening to me? Are their surroundings going to overtake me and their Mother in terms of influence and importance? These are common questions for parents. And they are fair questions. After all, as the spiritual battlefield becomes more and more cluttered with children who have left the church and their faith, it’s natural to wonder when their parents lost the ability to influence, lead and direct their children. And so I am left to fear for the future of my young children.

There is hope. In fact, there is a great deal of hope for those of us who are walking through the daily challenges of raising healthy and faithful God-fearing children. In a recent survey, teens were asked to list the greatest religious influences in their life. Here are the results.

  1. Mother
  2. Father
  3. Minister/Pastor
  4. Grandparent
  5. Sunday School/Bible class
  6. Youth Group
  7. Bible camp
  8. Miscellaneous church event

 

This list is screaming out to parents. The real question is whether or not Mom and Dad are listening. This list is really nothing more than practical confirmation or proof of what God has been saying for thousands of years.

A great example of this found in the book of Deuteronomy; which is essentially akin to a parents’ last speech to their child who is about to leave home for college. The text in 6:4-9 records Moses’ last words of exhortation, encouragement and direction for his spiritual children before they leave his presence to go on to the land flowing with milk and honey—the promised land. It says,

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 

God, through Moses, is laying the responsibility of training children in righteousness (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 22:6) at the feet of the parents. At this point (in the history of Israel) it seems that Moses primary concern was ensuring that the nation would thrive and prosper as they entered a new chapter in their collective lives. It is evident that Moses believed that this would happen only if the nation remained faithful to, and walked with, God. For this to happen, each generation of parents needed to teach their children that the Lord is God and that they should love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength. This task was not given to the Elders or even the Priests. It was given to the parents, to be done in the context of the family and the home.

Referring back to the list of influences, it is for both inherent and practical reasons that parents hold the top spot—it is not coincidental or incidental. For Moses, this was the most important direction that he could give. These were his last words to his spiritual children. Teaching a child to honor the Lord as the only God of their life and to love the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul and strength was among the last and most important directions that Moses gave.

Just as God calls and equips those that He calls today, we should expect nothing less as parents. We are equipped with the natural and inherent influence to teach and lead our children. They are our legacy. Their souls are at stake. And it is Mom and Dad’s responsibility.

 

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