Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I Didn't Expect To Find...

I fought the urge to go to class today. Fall Break just came and went, almost as if it had never come. And sitting in my apartment today, I said out loud, “I don’t wanna go to class.”
I usually get in this “I-don’t-wanna-go” mood a lot...but a dear friend said to me, “Go to class” off to class I went.

I never expected to get to class and deal with the discussion of women in ministry. This subject has been mentioned before in my class, but whenever the topic arises, I know the theological slant of my professor and fellow I just let it go and try to find something else with which to occupy my mind. Usually, I’ve found that when one disagrees, the best way to keep from getting angry is to find something else upon which to focus one’s attention. Sometimes, aversion is bliss...

Today, the text that my class spent almost an hour on was the controversial passage of 1 Timothy 2. My professor spent time examining this passage, telling the seminar class that “I’m a complementarian because of 1 Timothy 2.” For him, the chapter itself gives specific instructions (with no details hidden) that women are not to have spiritual authority over men in the church. I stayed quiet during the one-hour discussion because I wanted to find out my professor’s reason for so believing.

He did state, however, during his lecture time on the passage that “I think the best case an inerrantist can make for the egalitarian position is to argue that Paul wrote to Timothy regarding a specific case in the church at Ephesus, but that this specific situation was for the time of Paul’s letter and is not for today.”

Now, before I go on, let me say that I believe that Scripture itself can always show us something in the current era. We never arrive at a place where we have “outgrown” the Word of God. So, as an inerrantist (one who believes Scripture to be without error), I believe that Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 are meant to teach us a universal principle. I simply disagree with complementarians over the nature of that universal principle (“what” the principle is).

After conceding that an inerrantist could hold to a rather formidable position (i.e., the church faced a specific, unusual situation) on the passage, the professor said, “Now, I’ll show you why I think the passage is teaching a universal principle. Turn to 1 Timothy 2.” With those words, the class (me included) feasted our eyes on a passage that I’ve read, seemingly, a million times. And then, the professor told us to turn to verse 13. The verse reads,

“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:13, NKJV).

The professor then said, “See, Adam was created first. This holds true for today, right? As a result, I think that this verse shows that Paul’s prohibition is still binding for all women in the church at all times.”

Let me first credit the prof with what he did right: first, he started at the beginning of the prohibition (1 Tim. 2:11), and it’s always a good thing to start at the beginning of any passage. However, let me now critique the prof: he did not finish the passage itself; rather, he arrived at verse 13 and read no further. What about verses 14 and 15? Don’t they play a role in the interpretation of the prohibition as well?

Let’s go back and evaluate the professor’s reasoning. Verse 13, according to him, is still binding today. That is true: Adam, according to Scripture, was created before Eve. That hasn’t changed, and neither has the Law (all of the Old Testament). God’s Word never changes, and, since this be the case, then Genesis has not changed. When it states that Adam was the first human created by God, it means it.

But my question to this prof would have been, “What about verse 14?” Why does Paul get defensive in his stance regarding Adam? That is, why does Paul state that “Adam was not deceived”? Where in the Scriptures themselves do we find these words? We don’t---not even in Genesis. So the fact that Paul is having to defend Adam’s non-deception and Eve’s deception lends credence to the idea that Paul is writing his prohibition against women in order to defend the Law---not because he’s giving a word or two on what he thinks women ought to do in the church.

And what about context? Does not 1 Timothy 1 serve as the immediate, surrounding context to 1 Timothy 2? Why was 1 Timothy 1 not consulted when the prof arrived at his interpretation? Now the professor did note that “there is much related to false teaching going on in the letter”; however, why not read the verses on that material to let the class see why the egalitarian position has some strength? Why instead, would the prof turn to the class and ask them, “What do you think are some of the possible evidences egalitarians would use to defend women in ministry?”

And this prof happens to be one who always says, “A text means what it means in its context.” If the text cannot be divorced from the context, then why does he divorce the text from its context in his own interpretation? If one has to go against his own beliefs in interpretation (i.e., if the prof has to take the passage out of context), doesn’t this signal that something is wrong with the interpretation? If we cannot sin and expect grace to abound (Romans 3:5-8), then how can we disconnect text from context and expect our interpretation to be correct? How can one start wrong and end up right? And if one starts wrong and ends up right, does this create a “Machiavellian” hermeneutic, where the end (i.e., what I think the text says) justifies the means (whether or not I place the passage in its context)?

What I didn’t expect to find today was a discussion on 1 Timothy 2. What I also didn’t expect to find, however, was a transgression of hermeneutic principles in the name of what he believed to be the right interpretation. Chalk it all up to what happens when we become the traditions we espouse so dearly.

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