Thursday, October 28, 2010

The end of perspicuity

I am not sure when the doctrine of perspicuity began. Perhaps it was during the Reformation that some decided the scriptures were clear and forthright. However, we can safely announce the end of perspicuity this year. It is now out in the open that complementarians dither endlessly about whether Ephesians 5:21 refers to non-reciprocated submission, or submission which is reciprocal, albeit different.

They are not the same thing, if you think about it. If submission is non-reciprocal, then the command in Eph. 5:21 is only intended for those Christians who are in roles of submission to other Christians, it is not an instruction for everyone. Some time ago after careful consideration, Denny Burk wrote,
I think “one another” is used in the non-reciprocal sense Ephesians 5:21 as well.
But the other day he wrote about Thielman,
He takes a different tack on the interpretation of “submitting to one another” in verse 5:21. He understands that both husbands and wives are to submit to one another, but they are to do so in different ways. Thus he maintains the Pauline notion of headship while distinguishing his view from the “mutual submission” interpretation of egalitarians.
For most complementarians, there are many different ways to interpret the words of scripture. As long as they all lead to the authority of the husband over the wife, one can still call oneself a complementarian. But great latitude is allowed in exegeting scripture. Why is Thielman acceptable? Because he distinguishes himself from egalitarians. Not because he has any particular understanding of scripture. In fact, relatively few jump to defend the clarity of scripture. Many jump to defend the authority of the male over the female.

25 comments:

Mabel said...

Thanks for writing, we need your voice and clarity of thought in countering the avalanch of attack against the equality of women in the Christian community, of all places. Don't these so-called comps (more accurately called patriarchalists) have more God pleasing things to do? Why the relentless attack? What's behind their psyche?

Don said...

There are LOTS of other examples of different ways to interpret Scripture yet still be comp, or egal for that matter. The problem for comps is that they ALSO want to claim perspicuity of (gender verses in) Scripture.

Junia has 3 ways of avoiding the implications: Junias, well known TO, and apostolos not really an apostle.

Charis said...

QUOTE: "the command in Eph. 5:21"

The error is right there!

Its not in the imperative. Its not a command! Its a description of "body life" given in immediate context of a metaphor comparing marriage to a head connected to a body. And elsewhere Paul expounds more on the body life metaphor of the church (1 Cor 12).

Are the parts of your body "being subject to one another"? How?

And whoever came up with this idea of "perspicuity" must have ignored Peter's observation:

"our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures." 2 Pet 3:15b-16

timbulkeley.com said...

Surely the claim that Scripture is perspicuous is not a claim that every detail in Scripture is easy to understand, but that the big central message is easy. The important stuff just jumps out at you and you have to use clever interpretative strategies to avoid it.

I've always liked Menno Simons first draft summary of perspicuous things:
"The Word is plain and needs no interpretation: namely, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbor as thyself. Mt. 22:37, 39. Again, you shall give bread to the hungry and entertain the needy. Is. 58:7"

And as far as I can see also one of those perspicuous things is that humans are not to dominate each other, and that the domination of women bt men is a result of the fallen sinful nature of humanity.

I hear a lot of creative and ingenious reading of details here and there in Scripture that seek to get round that blindingly obvious truth. Just like a couple of centuries back some ingenious folk claimed God ordained slavery.

Kristen said...

Yes, this is another example of how comps claim egals "ignore the plain sense of scripture," but then do the same thing themselves.

Good point, Tim-- proof-texting is not proper exegesis. The message of the Scriptures has to be seen in whole.

MarissaAdams-at-usa.com said...

Tim Bulkeley is right at least in part, that when comps and others talk of the perspicuity of Scripture, they are not saying that we will find unanimous agreement on the details. I think you've misunderstood the complementarian argument, Suzanne.

Also, Ephesians 5:21 can't mean whatever we want it to mean - we have to look at that verse in light of the passage and in light of what other Scriptures tell us. In other words, you can't take a phrase like that and create an entire doctrine out of it ("mutual submission"), when it contradicts other more detailed passages (including verse 22). In other words, we interpret from the clear to the less clear, not the other way around.

Tim, when you say that "humans are not to dominate each other", you are not accurately or fairly describing complementarians. Yes, they believe in leadership of the male in the home and church, but that leadership is to be marked with fear of God, love, kindness, service and not authoritarianism.

Thank you for letting me share this rebuttal, I hope it is respectful, if not in total agreement with your views.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

First, I completely agree with Tim that those things he mentions are clear. But th is aey are also clear to those who do not believe in the New Testament. The Jews also believed those things. Many atheists also believe in empathy and compassion.

Marissa,

You do agree, however, that complementarians have many scriptures that they disagree on. Eph. 5:21, Gen. 3:16, Romans 16:7 and 1 Tim 2 for example. I have heard two or three interpretations for each of these passages.

And there is little point suggesting that I don't know what complementarians believe when I attended Dr. Packer's church for 15 years, and was in a complementarian marriage for 27 years. I cannot now think of any way of justifying that way of life.

But you are free to comment.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Also, Ephesians 5:21 can't mean whatever we want it to mean - we have to look at that verse in light of the passage and in light of what other Scriptures tell us. In other words, you can't take a phrase like that and create an entire doctrine out of it ("mutual submission"), when it contradicts other more detailed passages (including verse 22). In other words, we interpret from the clear to the less clear, not the other way around.

Marissa,

I have been thinking of this. Tim's point is that the most clear and most often repeated commands in scripture are to love your neighbour as yourself, to do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Eph. 5 is a less clear scripture, so it must be interpreted in the light of what is most clear, and that is the golden rule.

I believe that an entire doctrine should be made out of Christ's commands, what is called the "law of Christ."

What is your interest in defending complementarianism?

Kristen said...

Mutual submission does not contradict verse 22 unless you insist that verse 22 is about husbands having authority over wives-- which it does not actually say.

Verse 22 and following DOES give us a picture of Christ giving Himself-- i.e., laying down His power and position in order to raise His Bride up to be glorious. How is it that we fail to read that husbands are being asked to lay down their power-- not to exercise it over their wives?

Tim Bulkeley said...

I find the nomenclature that's developed around Christian understandings of gender relations (especially but not exclusively in connection with marriage) quite confusing.

"Complementarian" implied to me (before I learned its specialist "Chrfistian" sense) that in a marriage (or any relationship) people are different and they can each help the other to "fill out" areas of weakness. That's been my experience over the years, both in marriage and with colleagues. It is great when people complement each other.

But I could not be a "Complementarian" in the weird "Christian" sense, not just because (thank God!) Barbara would not let me, but precisely because I do think that "mutual submission" is one of the things that is (at least moderately) perspicuous in Scripture.

We have the example of Jesus, who not only did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped, but also washed the disciples feet.

We have in the OT that great word "helper" which most often refers either to God as humanity's "helper" or to foreign nations as not real helpers, but which gets used of Eve's role (fulfilling God's recognition that the poor man was not really able to function on its own) and also the young warrior given to David (when he was elderly and infirm) as a helper in battle. In the "mutual submission" world of Scripture it's the strong who help the weak. And at least among the Godhead, or among humanity, this helping is mutual (humans are all both strong in some things and weak in others).

I realise that a lot of otherwise fine Christians in the USA (and some ion other places too) do not see this "mutual submission" as perspicuous, I'd just remind them that for earlier generations of otherwise fine Christians believed the right of kings and aristocrats to own others was thoroughly Scriptural, and much more recently that the slavery of the dark skinned people to white masters was believed equally Biblical. In both cases we would now say though there are some Bible verses (and even passages) that condone these things (or something like them) they are not congruent with the overall thrust of perspicuous Biblical teaching.

(Sorry for a long and rather polemical comment, but these - the good use of Scripture, it's perspicuity about the things that matter, and power relations between humnans) are things I feel passionate about.)

MarissaAdams-at-usa.com said...

Gender debate aside, plenty of people over the centuries have used the golden rule to justify all kinds of stuff that doesn't really qualify as love (from a Biblical perspective), including "free love/sex". My point is that you can't use a passage like the Golden Rule to justify applications that actually contradict other, more specific passages that define what love is and is not, as a for instance.

I don't really have a big desire to debate this topic here, my main motivation for commenting is that I don't like it when people mischaracterize or exaggerate the opinions of others in order to make yourself look like the only person with a brain or heart. I feel like I'm more of an egalitarian myself, but when I see mean spirited or nasty comments directed at someone who has a different theological view, or that it is implied that their motives are bad, it has ad hominem written all over it, it makes me want to play the devil's advocate.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Tim,

That is how I see it as well. One sided submission is regrettable as a doctrine.

Marissa,

Thanks for clarifying. It is a puzzle for sure. What shall we use as a measure? Shall we really subordinate a pervasive teaching like the golden rule to the details of Eph. 5 and 6?

Tim Bulkeley said...

Marissa, I'm less concerned about a gender debate (though I do feel passionately about that topic), it's the underlying use of Scripture that more concerns me.

Christians have begun to talk as if God in the Bible speaks to us in "verses" that is that God speaks in small fragments. But I think it is not the details, but the overall sweep, story and direction of Scripture that matters more. It is what is perspicuous, what is clear and obvious in many places, that we should seek to follow, not things that may be mentioned in one place.

We risk becoming like the Pharisees about whom Jesus said:
"Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law - justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel!

Anonymous said...

"He takes a different tack on the interpretation of “submitting to one another” in verse 5:21. He understands that both husbands and wives are to submit to one another, but they are to do so in different ways."

Ok, I had to laugh out loud. Of course! There is an authoritarian way to submit.

Doesn't anyone get tired of all the redefining? I agree with the Menno Sims quote but I also have to ask why folks do not interpret the NT from the lens of Pentecost instead of the 1 Tim lens, for example?

There is NO prohibition to women teaching or leading men in the OT law or in the OT, period. Why is there a new law for the New Covenant AFTER the Cross? Curious what folks will buy as an interpretation.

Lydia

MarissaAdams-at-usa.com said...

Tim,
As you admitted yourself, your own comments are polemical. I agree.

I note that when a person resorts to comparing those who disagree with them to slaveholders or Pharisees or Nazis, they're wielding a blunt force instrument with which to bash others on the head. It is a clumsy way to argue and it is a dead giveaway that you're running away making an actual intellectual argument. There should be no place for these kinds of ad hominems when Christians discuss or debate matters of difference in conviction and theology. It is the opposite of love, frankly.

It's so ironic that you're criticizing others for using individual verses to run away from a broad reading of Scripture while you advocate mutual submission in broad terms on the basis of one verse. I agree with the idea of mutual submission, but I also understand that there are many tensions in Scripture and we can't use one Scripture verse to invalidate other references that clearly teach the wife to submit to the husband. I've struggled with these verses and am not comfortable with entirely excusing myself from their application. Others may wish to do so and that is between them and God.

Thank God, my husband is not allowed to abuse his position of authority or to "dominate me". Nor does he attempt to.

Your comments are overall very off putting to me because while I may not be a full complementarian myself and side with egals in some ways, it is not fair to say that complementarians are about "the domination of women". That isn't fair and it isn't true of the majority of Biblically minded complementarians. That is another example of ad hominem insults on your part.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

when a person resorts to comparing those who disagree with them to slaveholders or Pharisees or Nazis

I often felt that I was mistreated in ways that warrant making this kind of comparison. I still see it that way. It is very painful, excruciating to come to one's senses after years of mistreatment.

I usually try to refer to "those who believe in the authority of male over female" rather than all "complementarians." I do believe that those who teach male over female authority, are contributing to serious damage and destruction of homes and marriages. Just my observations and experiences.

MarissaAdams-at-usa.com said...

Suzanne,
How do you like it when someone groups you with a subgroup of women who do terrible things? When they lump you in with the worst elements of any group you might identify with?

You don't have to answer. It's a rhetorical question. Food for thought.

Mara Reid said...

Marissa,

The words in Ephesians 5 concerning husbands and wives has been used as a foundation or as "directives" for marriage.
But guess what?
The words in Ephesians 6 has been used to justify slavery.

Now, those who point this out are simply pointing out how people pick and choose which sections of the Bible to follow religiously or to the letter and which parts to toss out due to the question of culture.

IF some comp wants to get all offended and decide that someone pointing this inconsistency in interpretation is equating comps as slaveholders, then the comp jumped to that conclusion.

Egals were not equating comps with that. Egals were pointing out inconsistencies in the 'plain reading' method that comps want to used on Ephesians 5 but avoid using in Ephesians 6

I also point to this inconsistency.
However, I've never said that comps were the same thing as slaveholders.

The problem here is with Egals coming up with a good point and Comps deflecting that awesome point, and refusing to deal with it by saying, "Stop calling me names!" when no one was calling anyone names.

My point is that some of these accusations are not accurate but rather deflection and avoidance.

And I have been severely judged and told that I'm destroying my family (by a guy who has no clue what goes on in my house) because I hold to the Egal way of thinking.

I only came back and told him to be careful about setting himself up as my judge.
No big deal. I got over it.
So did he.

If comps want to argue this with Egals, they are going to have to deal with the slaveholder arguement. But they better start dealing with is honestly rather than avoid and deflect.
And it sounds like they are going to have to develop a little thicker skin and quit being so sensitive.

Mara Reid said...

Now, concerning the "Nazi" thing.

This actually started out in comp circles, not against egals but in a different circumstance.

Women who were married to difficult and perhaps even abusive men were told to go back and submit to their husbands and endure the mistreatment and abuse.

The example that they were given was Corrie ten Boom.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrie_ten_Boom

They said that surely their marriage wasn't this bad, and used the scripture about Jesus learning from what He suffered and that women from bad marriages should just submit because that was what the Bible said women were to do in all things, even if their husbands acted like Nazis.

And I still hear women say this. "Well at least my marriage isn't as bad as a Nazi concentration camp. Corrie when through her hell. Guess I better knuckle under and go through mine."

So, while some of these women who have been told this continue to knuckle under, other finally got tired of it and started throwing the "Nazi" thing back in the faces of those (comps?) who gave them this rotten advice.

Sorry if this offends you, but, like I said, either grow thicker skin or get out of the argument.

Mara Reid said...

Now as for the Pharisee thing.

When dealing with an all out legalistic view, I still really don't think it's wrong to point out that Pharisitical thinking is still alive and well and part of Churches today.

To be quite honest, I read the parts of the Bible talking about Pharisees more for myself. I look at that part and learn what not to do. How not to think.

And I'm not so niave to think that I have never nor will ever fall into Pharisitical thinking. It's something we all have to guard our hearts against.

The Pharisees picked and chose which parts of the 10 Commandments they would go overboard in keeping, like "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" and which ones they would make loop-holes for like "Honor your father and mother".
They miss the heart of the Bible in order to serve the letter of the law.

It's not wrong to point out to someone to take care of falling into that thinking. It is a real threat to us all.

believer333 said...

”When dealing with an all out legalistic view, I still really don't think it's wrong to point out that Pharisitical thinking is still alive and well and part of Churches today.”

Quite true, Mara. As well, many who are of Biblical egalitarian thinking have already lived fully the hierarchical male dominant views, and well know the differences. When one has lived something they know the paths it takes.

Don said...

Marissa,

You said Eph 5:22 is clearer than Eph 5:21. Are you aware that Eph 5:22 inherits its verb from Eph 5:21 by the way Greek grammar works. That is, whatever the verb means in Eph 5:21 is what it means in Eph 5:22 and by doing it that way Paul made sure we would not separate the phrases.

E said...

Its not in the imperative. Its not a command! Its a description of "body life" given in immediate context of a metaphor comparing marriage to a head connected to a body. And elsewhere Paul expounds more on the body life metaphor of the church (1 Cor 12).

I think, e.g., Romans 12 is examples of non-imperatival forms having imperatival or "command/hortatory" senses. I.e., Greek can use forms other than the imperative for a command; context, not morphology alone, has to be considered.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Marissa,

I sincerely believe that male over female authority is destructive and is something that causes harm. I believe it should be repudiated.

However, I do not by any means believe that everyone who calls themselves complementarian asserts authority over their wife.

I also do not believe that those who believe in male over female authority are more abusive and violent. However, I do believe that they are EQUALLY abusive and violent.

I also do not believe that submitting to male authority gains any favour before God, or brings glory to God in any way. It is quite impossible for this to be so, since male authority marriages are not longer lasting or less violent than any other kind of marriage. They do not honour God.

Since zero is gained from a male authority marriage and the wife usually experiences this as a struggle, I feel it should be rejected completely. I know of no argument in favour of male authority marriages other than men wanting it to be that way.

Anonymous said...

"I also do not believe that submitting to male authority gains any favour before God, or brings glory to God in any way."

I agree with this. This view within the Body of Christ (and in a believers marriage) is a huge sin trap for men. It helps to enable sin and can breed a hard heart full of entitlement.

Jesus Christ is to be number one for both men and women. We do not put any humans inbetween that relationship.

Lydia