Women in the Pulpit IV: How to Read Your Bible

The introduction to this blog series is crucial to read. It provides the background as well as the links to what I reference in this post. If you have not read it, it can be found here.

Sloppy Hermeneutics

Before attempting to deal with the important passages from Paul where women pastors are dealt with, Greg Boyd and Rachel Held Evans (RHE) set the table so to speak, and bible studybriefly explain their hermeneutics, i.e. the methodology of how to interpret the Bible.

Boyd and RHE both address an important aspect of biblical interpretation, particularly relevant to this discussion, which is sifting through a text and determining if what is being said is a temporary, cultural, command, or if it is a binding, universal principle.

In a section titled “Discerning Between Transcendental Teachings and their Cultural Application,” Boyd begins to flesh this issue out.

He seeks to make his point by discussing the head-covering passage in 1 Corinthians 11. Certainly, I agree with Boyd that women wearing veils was unique to the Gentile culture of that day and region, and Paul was not meaning the commands for the women to wear them as being universal for all women everywhere. The wearing of veils for married women while praying and prophesying is a “cultural application” (CA), as he calls it, of a universal truth. I agree with Boyd that there is a principle underneath these head-covering prescriptions that is universal and binding, there is a “transcultural teaching” (TT).

However, Boyd already shows how bankrupt his hermeneutic is even while using simple examples to introduce the method. He determines the TT of 1 Corinthians 11 is to “act decently in church.” He gets this from an alleged idea that some people were offended when Christian women were taking their head-coverings off. Thus Paul required the women to wear them so not to offend others or partake in something culturally taboo and permiscous (akin to a women wearing a two-piece bathing suit to church).

The problem is that this TT is nowhere in the text. Paul says nothing about offending people, or not causing a brother to stumble (as he does mention in other letters.)

The background of any given letter does inform and aid interpretation, but it cannot flip the grammar and vocabulary on its head. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11: 3,I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” How is this not the TT? Especially, since it is regularly repeated throughout this passage. In fact, Paul explicitly identifies this as the TT, and the covering as its CA. Verses 7-9 says,

“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

Paul tells us that which the alleged, unverified, feelings of the Corinthians cannot. He tells us that the symbol of authority (CA) is the application of man being “the image and glory of God, but woman is glory of man,” (TT) and also that “Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

If head-coverings are a CA, and the TT is acting decently in church, where does all this talk about headship, submission, glory, and creation fit in? How are those CA of the “act decently” principle?

The irony here is the explicit TT has to be rejected because it contradicts the egalitarian agenda. Head-coverings aside, this is just another clear teaching from Paul of male headship, and the unique and distinctions between men and women.  Clearly, Boyd’s bias forces irrelevant cultural mindsets onto the text. That is not hermeneutics; it is eisegesis.

Interpretive methodology is not improved upon by fellow egalitarian RHE either.

She begins by stressing that New Testament epistles are not Law books. I agree with this. Although there are laws within them, they do not fit into the genre of books known as “Law” the way the O.T. books that make up the Torah do.

However, RHE has an over-simplistic and problematic understanding of this truth.

First she says,

“The epistles were never meant to be interpreted and applied as universal law. Rather, they provide us with an instructive and inspired glimpse into how Jesus’ teachings were lived out by real people, in real communities, facing real challenges. It is not the details found in the letters that we should seek to imitate, but rather the attitudes.”

The latent-antinomianism is rearing its ugly head, and deceiving readers into a false dichotomy that a book is either Law and nothing but Law, or a letter with absolutely no Law at all. The problem is that logically does not work, and more importantly, it is unbiblical.

Logically, RHE standard is a false-dichotomy. A parent can certainly tell their children to clean their room through a chores list, or through a personal text message. The formats are different, but the command is equally binding.

Likewise, the book of Ephesians is not Law book like Leviticus is. However, when Paul says “Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather, let him labor, doing honest work, with his own hands so that he may have something to share with those in need,” that is binding on us thieves. Ephesians is not law, but that verse reads an awful lot like a…command! It is literally a list of do’s and don’ts. That is law, and it is binding.

I wonder if RHE believes we are required to love our neighbor? I mean, Jesus might have said that, but Jesus is not a walking talking Torah after all! Perhaps we shouldn’t worry about the details of all of those Messianic commands, but rather focus on the attitude instead.

Another example of sloppy hermenteutics is here as RHE also says,

“I’ve never once heard a sermon preached on the passage in which Paul tells Titus ‘Cretans aare always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons (Titus 1: 12-13), and yet, if these words are truly the inerrant and unchanging words of God intended as universal commands for all people in all places at all times, then the Christian community needs to do a better job of mobilizing against the Cretan people, perhaps constructing some ‘God hates Cretans’ signs!”

Who on earth has RHE met that presented to her that the consequence of believing Titus is the word of God forces the forfeiture of making distinctions in English grammar? The declaration against the Cretans is descriptive. The verse in question, in the English, is in the declarative mood, it is not an imperative. Paul is describing a group of people, Paul is declaring them to be a something, he is not commanding anyone to do anything.

Thus, one can believe what Paul said about the Cretans of his day and still never mobilize with Cretan hate signs, because the text does not command anyone at all to mobilize a rally. It’s a shame she has never heard a sermon on this text because it is clear she really needs to.

One has to believe RHE knows the difference between a command, a question, and a description. So why does she use a clear descriptive text, and treat her opposition as if we are prone to make it a prescriptive text?

It seems to be an attempt to poison the well. If she can convince readers of how absurd they look when they miss a culturally relative practice before going to 1 Timothy 2, they will be more likely to accept a claim that Paul’s prohibitions against women are relative and gone, to avoid looking foolish.

Admirable Hermeneutics

Boyd took an interpretative position that actually cut off the branch the egalitarians are all comfortably sitting on. Boyd states,

“We can usually discern what is transcultural and what is culturally relative by asking this simple question: Is the issue in this passage uniformly addressed throughout Scripture? If it is, we can be confident that the teaching is probably transcultural.”

This is by no means exhaustive of all that encompasses good hermeneutics, but it certainly is something I am happy to agree with. However, it only further proves the Complementarian position.

The church I am a pastor at does not practice head-covering standards (but we also allow women who have that conviction to wear them). Following Boyd’s own standard, we have good reason to accept the prescriptions in 1 Corinthians 11 as relative. For one, this command shows up nowhere else in Paul’s letters to his churches or his pastors, nor in any of the other New Testament writings.

Second, the idea that a man’s head is dishonored when he worships with it covered would actually contradict God’s Law because He prescribed head-coverings for the Old Testament high priests. Therefore, the idea that men shaming themselves with their covered heads must be a cultural application, not a universal and divine standard, thus, the adjacent prescription for women must also be like that of the men.

However, on the other side of the coin, Boyd’s principle very much supports the position he seeks to reject.

Not only are there two primary negative texts which speak against women preaching and exercising authority, those texts ground themselves in the O.T.

Paul appeals to the created order of Genesis 1-2 to make his argument (1 Timothy 2: 13-14) and he also appeals to a consistency with the Law in 1 Corinthians 14: 34.

In the above-mentioned verse, Paul tells women they may not teach and must be submissive, and he then states, “as the Law also says.” Thus, according to Paul, our position of keeping women from the pulpit shows up twice in the New Testament, as well as is a teaching grounded in and consistent with the Old.

On top of that, there is the positive presentation of Scripture for men occupying certain roles exclusively. No woman ever occupies the role of Priest, Apostle, or Elder within the Biblical Scriptures. From the Old to the New Testament, only men occupy those offices.

Lastly, the idea of male headship extends beyond the church, and women submitting to their husbands is an explicit teaching of both Ephesians 5 as well as 1 Peter 3. Peter puts it this way,

“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3: 1-7).”

Our position then shows up regularly in the Old Testament, and multiple times in the New. That means, by Boyd’s own standard, from the Law to the Apostles, the Complementarian position is enforcing a trans-cultural teaching, not a cultural application which is no longer binding on the Christian church today.


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