Women should be seen and not heard!

The Bible says

Well actually, of course, it doesn’t. What it does say, at least in a couple of places is shocking enough:

…women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. (1 Cor 14:34 NRSV)

And as many famous US pastors with powerful ministries have noted and proclaimed:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. (1 Tim 2:12 NRSV)

Which, you have to admit, sounds pretty close to my deliberately inflammatory title!

At this point, if you are like me, all your hackles are rising and you are muttering to yourself: What about the gospel? What about Paul? Paul summed up the consequences of being baptised ‘into Christ’ and so being (each and together) ‘clothed in Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28 ESV)

Indeed, if we just look at the question of women teaching men, what about Jesus’ conversation with the Canaanite woman who when he suggested that he should not offer her daughter the healing mercy that he was offering to proper Israelites, argued back against him and evoked the response:

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matt 15:28 NRSV)

You are just twisting the Bible

Anyone who tries to explain how context, careful attention to the wording, and other cues might cause us to understand the two passages about women being silent differently from their literal surface meaning will have met the response: ‘You are just twisting the Bible to avoid its plain meaning.’

This sounds like a ‘nice knock down argument’,1 after all surely we must all prefer the plain obvious meaning?

But that is precisely the problem. By their focus on the plain, simple, obvious meaning of a couple of passages, and their staunch and principled refusal to consider revisionist readings of these passages, these teachers must twist the plain, simple, obvious meaning of the gospel and of loads of whole passages and stories from across the Bible from at least as early as Deborah (in Judges) to at least as late as Jesus and Paul (in the New Testament).

Here is a rule you can trust

Whenever the plain, simple, obvious meaning of a few passages seems to conflict with, contradict, or merely seems uncomfortable alongside the great truths of the gospel that are proclaimed across the whole of Scripture then we have somehow misunderstood those passages!

  1. This phrase was chosen because it echoes Humpty Dumpty, because I believe these famous pastors with the powerful ministries are followers of Dumpyites. []

Scripture and the “gay marriage” debate

I had an unexpected visit from a friend this evening. Among the wide-ranging and inspiring (as well as depressing since we talked of the plight of the Rohingya) topics we addressed was the question facing the Baptist Churches of NZ of what to do faced with many churches who believe that to perform the marriage of a gay couple would deny the truths taught in Scripture and other churches convinced that to refuse to perform such marriages would in itself be a denial of truths taught clearly in Scripture.

I do not want to address this issue directly, but rather the similar issue of divorce – also a question of sexual ethics that can be addressed from Scripture fairly directly.

The Bible seems to me to speak with only two voices on divorce.

Deuteronomy 24:1 “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…” which allows divorce. The translation of the grounds is open to some debate (for an idea of the range cf. NIV and NRSV) but but in Jesus day the issue resolved into a debate between “conservatives” who only allowed unfaithfulness, desertion or abuse, and the “liberals” who allowed divorce for “any reason” (pretty much the position the laws of most Western countries take today.

Jesus seems (Matt 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4) to take a hard line. Arguing that divorce contravenes God’s intention expressed in Gen 2 and concluding: Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mark 10:9)1

I am ignoring Mal 2:16 as this passage (in which God says “I hate divorce”) may not be speaking of literal divorce but rather Israel’s unfaithfulness to her covenant partner, God.

In terms of a Christian position on this issue I can see no justification for setting aside Jesus words and returning to the law of the Old Testament. One common approach to the “problem” of OT law for Christians is to argue the opposite, that only what is affirmed in the NT applies to us. I believe that position to be wrong, but still cannot accept setting aside a saying of Jesus (repeated three times)  in favour of a difficult to translate OT law.

Yet somehow almost all churches today in NZ accept divorce certificates issued by the NZ state as a result of a “no fault” process. They then remarry these divorced people.

I would be grateful for someone who can explain to me how the hermeneutics that allows this flagrant breach of Jesus’ clear and strong teaching applies to “gay marriage”!

[This is a genuine question, I am still unsure where I stand on the question of churches performing “gay marriages”, but I am quite clear on the biblical teaching on divorce. I do not understand how one can allow churches that practice the remarriage of “no fault” divorced people to remain in communion yet argue that churches that practice “gay marriage” should be excluded.]

  1. There is a case to be made that Jesus’ position is not as stark as it seems but that he was siding with the “conservatives” and only allowing divorce for unfaithfulness, desertion or abuse. []

Fishing on Galilee

Richard Bauckham (University of St Andrews) gave the 2014 Burns Lectures at the University of Otago. The podcast MP3 or MP41 Titled “The Sons of Zebedee: The Lives of Two Galilean Fishers”, the lectures (at least so far, I am finishing #2 as I write) provide careful and full descriptions of the geographical and social contexts of Galilee in the time of Jesus.

If you watch no more, watch the first few minutes of lecture #1! They alone will give you a fine sense of the little world of 1st Century lake Galilee and enrich your reading of the gospels out of all proportion to the time spent.

Here are links to mp4 (video) and mp3 files:
1) The World of the Lake of Galilee’ – Tuesday 12 August (video) (mp3)
2) ‘The Fishing Industry’ – Wednesday 13 August (video) (mp3)
3) ‘Zebedee and Sons’ – Thursday 14 August (video) (mp3)
4) ‘Called to Fish for People’ – Tuesday 19 August (video) (mp3)
5) ‘Sons of Thunder’ – Wednesday 20 August (video) (mp3)
6) ‘Jerusalem’ – Thursday 21 August (video) (mp3)

HT: Deane Galbraith

  1. The MP3s are excessively high quality, 160kbps, so are almost as big as the video, caveat downloador.  []

Did Jesus have a sense of humour?

Dr Jane Heath (Durham University) wrote a piece “Did Jesus Christ have a sense of humour?” In it she suggests that the question might be broken into two parts: “[o]ne about the way Jesus taught during his incarnate life, and another about the way it is proper for followers of Jesus, who seek to share in his risen life, to behave today.” I intend to respond here to what she wrote about the first of these.

Heath begins by noting that the synoptic gospels “[d]o not depict him making people laugh and they do not describe him as ‘witty’, let alone ‘funny’.” This is true, but then descriptions in biblical narrative is commonly sparse, perhaps less so in the New Testament than in the Hebrew Bible but nevertheless the gospels do not describe Jesus as ‘serious’, ‘sober’ or ‘solemn’ either.

In a similar way she erects another straw man to conveniently demolish. When those around him do something silly, she says: “Jesus does not make a joke of their silliness.” Well, no, but then to present Jesus as a sarcastic snob who makes fun of the mistakes of others would hardly fit with the Synoptic Gospels intentions in presenting Jesus. Even if the historical Jesus did make fun of such slips, the gospel writers might well not have reported this.

Moving beyond this trail of successfully demolished straw men, Heath has to admit that: “Some of the things he says in parables might seem to invite us to read them as if told with a twinkle in his eye.” She follows this with a couple of weak examples of such possibly humorous parables, but recognising the difficulty of accurately spotting humour accross cultures concludes: “In general, humour is not a useful tool for interpreting the gospels’ account of Jesus’ life. The evangelists were not writing satire.” The second sentence is true, but entirely irrelevant. Jesus might have been a stand up comedian and the gospel writers would still not have been satirists if they reported his jokes accurately! The question Heath posed is not, are the gospels satire (or even comedies) but rather, did Jesus have a sense of humour?

The other claim: “humour is not a useful tool for interpreting the gospels’ account of Jesus’ life” is more difficult to argue (either for or against). But I would suggest that the fact that it is difficult to picture Jesus’ parable of the man with the log in his eye (Mat 7:3-5, Luke 6:41-42) without smiling may provoke us to look to see if the signs of humour are present in these texts.

The criteria I have used in the past, are drawn from a number of previous studies by others, and most are present in these texts:

  • incongruity – surely evident!
  • lighthearted mood – this is a subjective criterion, but what do you think?
  • surprise – if you had not heard the parable before would you expect Jesus’ punchline?
  • ingenuity (cleverness is often a mark of humour think of puns) – this one may be missing here…
  • inferiority – the main point of the parable?
  • disguise or something or someone pretending to be something else – the “friend” is pretending to be superior and helpful
  • “inelasticity” (following Bergson) – perhaps not…
  • human pretension revealed in all its lack of glory – oh, yes!

My conclusion: This saying seems evidently intended to be humorous. What do you think? On the basis of this saying alone1 The correct response to Dr Heath’s question is a clear “Yes, Jesus did have a sense of humour!” (At least the Jesus who is presented in the Synoptic Gospels did.)

PS: I omitted “hyperbole” which I earlier added to the original list at David Kerr’s suggestion – the hyperbole in this passage is obvious!

  1. Though I can’t help also remember Jesus’ fondness for camel stories! []

The case of the dog who did not bark

THE HISTORIC FIRST DAY OF GAY MARRIAGES IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK 2011 – Louis J. Lefkowitz State Office Bldg. , Lower Manhattan NYC – 07/24/11 (Photo by asterix611)

Rodney from Wipf and Stock has a post on Running Heads1 The Case of the Centurion’s Servant in which he comments on an argument used by Alex Ross writing about the gay rights in the the New Yorker discussing Matt 8:5–13.  He quotes Ross:

What’s striking is that Jesus shows no interest in resolving the ambiguity. He asks nothing about the relationship. His eye is elsewhere. Only the centurion’s faith matters.

And comments:

A textual argument I’d not seen, though ultimately one from silence, one “almost conspicuous” in its silence, in  Ross’s words.

I used a similar but different approach to the case of the dog that did not bark in my podcast Jesus and the Centurion’s Lad (pais) there I noted a significant difference between Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the story and asked about its shock value.

 

  1. What a great name for a publisher’s blog! []

Authority and submission

Dictators like Idi Amin exercise fearful authority of the first sort but lose the second sort. Caricature by Edmund S. Valtman.
(Gifted to the U.S. Library of Congress via Wikimedia)

Authority and submission are fraught concepts in families. There are two sorts of authority, earned, and that bestowed by position. Which works in families?

Authority, Submission, and the Sydney Anglicans

When I posted my thoughts on the Sydney Anglicans’ decision to “let” women promise to “submit” in the wedding service (suggesting that the logic of Ephesians 5 would suggest men should promise to submit too, see below) it provoked some discussion on Facebook. One friend, in particular, was concerned about “authority”. So it may be helpful to set out here a bit about my approach to “authority”.

Two sorts of authority

Earned authority

There are two rather different sources of authority. First, people earn authority by their actions. In most instances this is bestowed by others because someone consistently “leads well”. Almost always we see such a person exercising hesed the sort of faithful kindness and love that the Bible consistently encourages us to show in relationships (whether family or covenants of various sorts) and which God shows to us supremely.1 This sort of authority is bestowed by others and earned. It correlates closely with respect and honour. If someone acts badly or faithlessly they literally dis-honour themselves, losing respect and authority.

Positional authority

The other sort is given by social convention to certain people because of the position they occupy or the title they have been given or inherited. This is the respect due to kings, lords, teachers, judges and others “in authority”. It is often unearned, or the earning has been invisible to those under the authority. It is a matter of social convention. Naturally usually there is a high degree of correlation between the two sorts, but they are not the same thing.

There seems to be a spectrum of attitudes to socially conventional authority. On one hand many people believe that society depends on it being “properly respected”. On the other, others believe respect and authority should be earned. Few of us hold one view or the other completely. Most “conventional” people believe that socially bestowed positional authority can be lost through bad behaviour (though they may differ on what sorts of bad behaviours lead to this). Most “personalists” accept that people can be given a certain amount of authority (at least to make and enforce rules) by their position.

Scripture is not as helpful in deciding between these two positions as we might expect. The Bible seems to support both. There are numerous passages that enjoin the faithful to “respect authority” and honour those placed in authority – even pagan rulers. On the other hand prophets, like Jesus, remind us that we need to earn real authority and/or that the only true authority is God (e.g. Matt 23:8-12).

Authority and submission in the family

So, which sort of authority exists within a family? In my experience, although society recognises and teaches that parents have and should exercise proper authority over their children, this authority needs to be earned and maintained. From a baby’s first cry, thhroughcare and protection through years of hesed we build up a store of authority. This is one reason why fostering can often be difficult especially at the start.

 

  1. The Bible uses the word more often of God than of humans. []

Can Jim West pull off his trick?

Jim West has a post which he seems to think defuses one common argument used in debates about issues like gay marriage. He wrote:

If you apply the OT legislation concerning homosexual behavior – that is, a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman, than you have to stop eating shrimp and you have to stop wearing garments of mixed fabrics’.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to distinguish moral law from ritual law.  As such, and as a failure to understand genre, category, and purpose, these arguments are flawed and inappropriate.

Sounds good. Sounds scholarly… But will it work?

To be fair to Jim this is a longstanding and very convenient Christian approach to eating their cake and having it around still too. The problem, gay marriage apart, is that there are a ton of Old Testament laws Christians (even those who claim to be faithful Bible-believers) don’t want to follow. But even more they don’t want to be accused of cherry-picking the Bible – a horrible sin.

Along comes a fine upstanding, grey-bearded biblical scholar (or in view of recent discussion in various places, rabid scholarship hating religious person who happens to spend their life studying and teaching the Bible) and waves a magic wand and the nasty problem goes away. “You no longer have to obey ritual law because it has been anulled by the superior sacrifice of Christ on the cross.” They intone, “But you should still, of course, obey all the moral laws.”

Sounds good, but does it work?

Take Ex 21:22-25 :

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Sounds like Christians for the death penalty are onto a good thing? “Oh, no!” interrupts the grey-bearded scholar (or possibly religious bigot in disguise) “That does not apply any more either, civil law is also abolished in Christ.”

Hmm. So, what makes the treatment of disorderly conduct, or slaves civil law and something else moral law? It’s quite simple really. Moral law is about sex and civil law isn’t.

 

Review copies

If you would like a review copy of the print version of my new book:

Tim Bulkeley, Not Only a Father: Talk of God as Mother in the Bible & Christian Tradition (Signs) Auckland: Archer Press, 2011 ISBN: 978-1468091373

Please contact me, please say both where you expect to publish the review (blogs are quite acceptable though a full review rather than a short note would be good) and when you are expect to write it. There are no conditions and you should be as critical as you normally would.

More on the Bible and marriage

From a webpage titled: History of Winnie the Pooh

Gavin (at Otagosh) posted a fairly long response to my piece Biblical marriages. Since he took the trouble to reply at some length as a post, I’ll do the same.

His critique starts

Then Tim makes an amazing statement: “In terms of the teaching of Scripture it is clear that Gen 2 is a privileged text (Jesus and Paul both cite it when discussing marriage).”

Genesis 2 is a privileged text?  In what sense?  Both Jesus and Paul cite other texts too.  Or, to be more specific, Paul and the Gospel writers cite other texts.1

Well, yes, evidently both Jesus and Paul2 also refer to other parts of Scripture. A full treatment of what the Bible says about marriage would need to treat them and yet other texts (that neither of these use) also. But still it seems to me, for a Christian reading of Scripture the fact that both Jesus and Paul (more than once) cite Gen 2 does make that passage a somewhat privileged locus for seeking a biblical understanding of marriage.3 No, Gavin, I cannot accept that all texts, or passages, are equal. Like most people4 I have a “canon within the canon, though it will be different for different purposes and I think that (as I began to here)5

From a webpage titled: History of Winnie the Pooh

Gavin continued:

There were no “red letter” options available to indicate Jesus’ actual words, quotation marks had yet to be invented, and speaking of “invented”, much (please note that I’m not saying all) of the material attributed to Jesus has clearly been put into his mouth.

This seems to assume that when I say “Jesus” my interest is historical. There is a terrible tendency in modern thought to value history and “facts”. But I am not a historian, I am a theologian, my primary interest is not in reconstructing a plausible history but in the character “Jesus” who inspires and is the centre of the New Testament. This Jesus whether or not “invented”6 does make special use of this passage.

This section of the post concludes:

Tim’s decision to anoint Genesis two as “privileged” is entired [sic]7 theological and subjective.

I hope that I have shown that the first is entirely true, but perhaps to be expected of a theologian, and that the second is true only in the most general sense. I gave a reason that Gavin did not like, and in a short post failed to present any of the others, perhaps I have begun to rectify that lack above.

Gavin then quotes something I wrote and rejects it. I wrote:

“in this (as in everything else) human sinfulness warps and twists God’s intent. All of the ‘biblical’ marriages listed in the graphic reflect this.”

Gavin replied:

The problem is that, as Tim knows full well, the documents themselves contain little or no condemnation of these customs.  If there’s warping and twisting going on, wouldn’t you assume that this would be signalled within the text

Well, Gavin and I might assume that, but the fact is that biblical narratives though they frequently recount the most terrible breaches of God’s desires (as expressed in the texts themselves) seldom mark them as such, we cannot rely on such explicit markers. But then the simple fact that no Bible character (with the arguable exception of Jesus) is presented without faults, sins and failings might suggest – and certainly does to my theological reading – that the Bible sees humans as sinful, warped and twisted. Nice middle-class liberal moderns may not like it, but we are all broken and in need of repair.

On the charge of biblicism that Gavin closes with, perhaps I’d be happy to plead guilty.

  1. I am sorry, I have spent half an hour playing with HTML but cannot reproduce gavin’s emphasis in these quotes, something to do with the way this theme handles blockquotes :( []
  2. See below, I’ll continue to use these convenient shorthand designations despite Gavin’s scorning of them. []
  3. Much like a blog post getting lots of links would privilegeit in Google’s algorithms ;) []
  4. Except raging fundamentalists. []
  5. Though of course in a longer treatment I should have added other reasons, like the claim that Genesis serves as a preface to both the Torah and Scripture as a whole, and the further claim that the early chapters are particularly “laden” with significant teaching, and the claim that Gen 2 is “about” marriage and is one of few Old Testament texts that are… []
  6. I know why I put quotation marks round the word, since i seriously doubt that the gospel authors or the traditions that may stand behind them intended to “invent”, but why does Gavin use scare quotes here? []
  7. PS3/2/12  now corrected in the original post. []

Jesus and talk of God as father (part two)

Photo by sean dreilinger

See also: Jesus and talk of God as father (part one)

When thinking about Jesus’ talk of God as father it is useful to examine how, in fact, he pictured God the Father. What did he mean by calling God ‘father’? To set this question in context it is helpful to consider the cultural stereotypes of father that were common in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean and the Roman Empire. Authority and discipline (especially the disciplining of male children) were strong and frequent overtones of father-language in the ancient world. Pilch explained the cultural stereotypes of parents in the biblical world like this:

Clearly, the father is viewed as severe, stern and authoritarian; the mother is viewed as loving and compassionate. Children respect and fear the father but love the mother affectionately even after they are married.1

Such an understanding of the stern authoritarianism is almost absent2 from father-talk in the Gospels. Rather, in Jesus’ speech, fathers feed and clothe their children (Matt 6:26-32; Luke 11:1-2, 13; 12:30; John 6:32 cf. Luke 24:49; John 6:27); give gifts to both good and bad children (Matt 5:45); are forgiving rather than punishing (Matt 6:14-15; 18:35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36 though the father does judge, in John 5:45; 8:16 but cf. 5:22); God as father deals with “infants” and “little ones” (Matt 11:25; 18:14; Luke 10:21). This divine “father” acts in ways which often fit the ancient world’s cultural stereotype of the mother more closely than they do the expectations of fatherly behaviour.

 

1 John J. Pilch, ‘Parenting,’ in John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina (eds.) Handbook of Biblical Social Values (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998), 147.

2 Mat 21:30f.; John 14:28 may be exceptions.