Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Clarity of Scripture

This is also called the perspicuity of scripture. It is taught in the Systematic Theology in these terms, page 108,
    We affirm that the Bible is written in such a way that all things necessary for our salvation and for our Christian life and growth are very clearly set out in Scripture.
    The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God's help and being willing to follow it.
The question is whether many issues pertaining to gender and marriage are clear in the scriptures. Here is Bill Mounce on "man of one woman,"

    When I wrote the commentary I initially went with Position 4. But when I got to chapter 5, I could not say that a widow had to be married only once in order to be enrolled in widows list since Paul encourages the younger widows to remarry. So I went back and changed my commentary to Position 3.

    This allows for a person to be an elder who has been divorced in the distant past—how far in the distance needs to be decided in your position paper. I didn’t come to this conclusion for this reason, but it is one of the ramifications.

    But in this debate, let’s be fair. 1 Tim 3:2 is a confusing text, and whatever it says, it does not say it clearly. At least to us; I am sure Timothy had not doubt as to Paul’s meaning.
And here is Al Wolters on Junia,
    This conclusion still leaves open the question whether it is more likely that the IOTNIAN of Rom 16:7 reflects a Hebrew masculine name or a Latin feminine one. The answer to that question depends largely on how one assesses the likelihood that Paul would have considered a woman to be "prominent among the apostles" (see Metzger, Textual Commentary, 475).
    To some, probability will still favor the quasi consensus of recent scholarship that IOTNIAN in Rom 16:7 refers to a woman. To others, the epigraphic and philological evidence for the existence of a Hebrew name Yëhunnï/Ίουνιας will tip the scales in favor of a male apostle. In my own opinion, a plausible (but not a decisive) case can be made for either position.
With regard to Eph. 5:21-22, Carl Conrad wrote in a comment on Mike's blog,

    Do I need or dare to reiterate my suspicion — hardening into a conviction? — that this author has not taken any great pains to structure his expression to make it what some Greeks called εὐσύνοπτον — the current buzz word seems to be “transparent.” I think it must be a thankless task to attempt a really convincing and thorough punctuation of Ephesians: one must read a mind that seems to know what it wants to say but can’t quite articulate it clearly.
This was very much what I had been trying to convince one of the commenters on complegalitarian of.

I have often demonstrated that certain conclusions about passages on gender in the Bible are not supported by the evidence. Then people ask me what my interpretation is. Frankly, I don't see why I have to have one. I am in good company. Or would readers rather that I jump off one horse and onto another as fast as some other people in this business.


J. K. Gayle said...

This is one of several things about you that I most appreciate. You remind (yourself and) the rest of us what we can (and cannot so quickly) learn from the scriptures.

Would you mind my quoting three others to show just what good company you're in? (1) George Steiner on the lack of perspicuity of Jesus and Paul, (2) C.S. Lewis on the lack of perspicuity of Jesus and Paul, and (3) Peter (an author of some of the scriptures) on the lack of perspicuity of Paul:

Steiner says,

"Jesus' discourse in parables, his statements of withdrawal from statement--of which the episode in which he writes in the dust and effaces his writing is the emblematic instance--give to linguistic verticality, to the containment of silence in language, a particular impetus. As do the constantly polysemic, stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles. It is these parables and indirect communications, at once more internalized and open-ended than are the codes of classical rhetoric, which beget the seeming contradiction of enigmatic clarity, the 'comprehendit imcomprehensible esse' celebrated in Anselm's Proslogion. In turn, from these dramatizations of manifold sense, evolve the instruments of allegory, of analogy, of simile, of tropes and concealments in Western literature (though here also there are obvious and indispensible classical sources)." (Grammars of Creation, page 75)

Similarly, Lewis says,

"He [Jesus] uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the "wisecrack". He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be ‘got up’ as if it were a ‘subject’. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’. The attempt is (again I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian that of lucidity and orderly exposition." (Reflections on the Psalms, page 113)

Likewise, Peter says,

"ὁ ἀγαπητὸς ἡμῶν ἀδελφὸς Παῦλος κατὰ τὴν δοθεῖσαν αὐτῷ σοφίαν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν ὡς καὶ ἐν πάσαις ἐπιστολαῖς [Παῦλου] λαλῶν ἐν αὐταῖς περὶ τούτων ἐν αἷς ἐστιν δυσνόητά τινα ἃ οἱ ἀμαθεῖς καὶ ἀστήρικτοι στρεβλοῦσιν ὡς καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς γραφὰς πρὸς τὴν ἰδίαν αὐτῶν ἀπώλειαν

Our dearly loved brother Paul, in the wisdom that has been granted to him, has also written to you all even as he speaks of these matters in all his letters; but places in them are hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable distort, as they do the other writings, to their own personal destruction." (2 Peter 3:15-16)

G said...

Well one thing that is clear; some sins lead to death and others do not. ????? How much clearer can it be?

I guess if Wolters & folks have finally recovered Junias' penis they can once again claim this woman of great devotion as an apostle AMONG the apostles.

Susan, you continue to be an encouragement to me. Thanks

J. K. Gayle said...

and I'm guessing you saw this, but here's Scott McKnight showing the evolution of alleged "perspicuity" by bible textual critics from 1927 on, related to

A Woman in [and then missing altogether from] the Footnotes