Facing the spiritual “law” head-on from 1 Corinthians 14
In the last post, Mike Seaver and Cheryl Schatz started a discussion/debate on women in ministry. Here is a link to Cheryl’s Question #1 given to Mike. This post will be Cheryl’s response to Mike’s answers and Mike’s response to Cheryl’s response. Mike’s corresponding post on his Role Calling blog is here.
Cheryl responds to Mike’s answers:
God’s law is always clear and distinct. Paul explained in 1 Cor. 14 that a word that is not clear is as useless as speaking into the air with no one to hear or understand. Similarly, a law that is not clear or distinct has no power to prepare a person to identify sin, keep away from sin and judge sin. The clearness of God’s law prevents us from misunderstanding what God requires. God has blessed us with a clear message and the clearness of the message guides our conduct.
On the contrary, an unclear word produces confusion, disagreement amongst Christians and an inability to prepare for spiritual warfare.
1 Cor 14:7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?
1 Cor 14:8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
1 Cor 14:9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
I have noticed how useful Paul’s words are for judging false interpretations about the law. Whenever I have asked complementarians to point to the “law” that forbids women from speaking in the congregation, I have noticed the indistinct sounds that come forth without a consensus among complementarians about where this “law” is to be found or even what the “law” forbids. Instead, we hear indistinct words like “probably” “possibly” “seems to be” “not absolute” “likely” “general pattern”. Not only is there no “distinct” and “clear” law that can be pointed to in the Old Testament, but no matter what is “guessed” for the original location of such a “law”, complementarians are unable to explain how the wording of the OT quote qualifies as a law. How does the account of the creation of the woman provide the basis for such a “law” (no other law is ever stated in such an unclear fashion) or what the law even mean?
Some “guess” that the “law” from 1 Cor. 14:34, 35 means absolute silence of women in the assembly but they have no proof of such a “law” from the Old Testament nor do they have proof of any silence commanded to Eve. Others “guess” that it must mean that women cannot judge between truth and error spoken in a message given to the church. Others “guess” that women can indeed judge between truth and error. However, they must not judge between truth and error publicly. But where are all these “rules” for women listed and why is the “law” so indistinct that the church cannot come to a consensus what is and what is not forbidden for women and if there is a prohibition, how far does the prohibition extend?
Mike, you admit that your interpretation of these passages may not be the same as other complementarians. This proves my point. I say that the “law” that complementarians want to claim is in these passages is so unclear that there can never be an agreement without a Christian Talmud set up outside of the bible to hash out the details of what women can and cannot do in private or in public. Would it not be better to allow the Bible alone to guide our steps as we realize that there is no “law” that forbids women from speaking in the assembly?
Regarding the judgment that “others” are to do:
1 Cor 14:29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (ESV)
The Greek term for “weigh” (what is said) is diakrino and it means to discern.
The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament shows this as evaluating the difference between things: discern, distinguish, differentiate.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament notes that in classical and Hellenistic Greek this term is mostly used for “converse” or “discussion” and that there is an art of persuasion and demonstration that comes in the form of question and answer. The idea for a time of question and answer after a speaker has given his message is popular even today in seminars, and it was also common in the Christian congregation. This practice allows the audience to participate in clarifying any things that are taught which are unclear. It also allows for the discernment and evaluation that is commanded to all in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21.
1 Thess 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit;
1 Thess 5:20 do not despise prophetic utterances.
1 Thess 5:21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
These verses in 1 Thessalonians 5, which were written by the Apostle Paul, show that examining the prophetic utterances with the end result of separating the good from the bad and holding onto that which is good, is a command to everyone. It is to be a part of our maturing in Christ. Who then can doubt that 1 John 4:1 is a command to the whole church:
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
The fact that the church has been warned that false prophets and false teachers would seek to deceive the church identifies the importance of everyone being on their guard and testing all things.
We need to take note that testing all things is an important part of Christian maturity. By using this test, we can see that there is no identifiable “law” in the Old Testament that either silences women in the congregation or stops them from evaluating a spiritual message. This is highly important. Paul could not have emphasized the importance of having a clear and distinct “sound” saying that without this clarity “how will it be known what is spoken?” and then turn around and himself give an “indistinct sound.” It would be an “indistinct sound” that would link a “law” that is unidentifiable within God’s own law and an “indistinct command” for women to learn at home when this contradicts Paul’s own words that all may learn in the assembly (1 Cor 14:26, 31). Indeed God is not a God of confusion but a God of the “distinct sound” and “distinct message.”
Instead of seeing 1 Cor. 14:34, 35 as Paul’s command to silence the women’s voices in the assembly and commanding them to learn at home, it is much more natural to see these words as a quote from the Corinthian’s who had written a letter to Paul (1 Cor. 7:1) that Paul answers throughout this letter. Paul’s words were saying “now concerning” (1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1 12:1) deal with many subjects that the Corinthians were concerned about and several that apparently were in dispute. The issue of women speaking out in prophesy would have concerned those who wanted to follow the Jewish oral law that forbid a woman’s voice from being heard in the assembly. The fact that Paul uses words of contradiction in 1 Cor. 14:36 fit with Paul’s judging of the Corinthian quote as mere human commands in opposition to the commands that God has revealed through Paul throughout chapter 14. These God-given commands revealed through Paul had released women to prophesy publicly, allowed them to learn publicly, gave them the equal obligation to evaluate and discern the truth in order to hold to what is good (1 Thess 5:21), and to judge between true and false prophets and true and false prophecies. It is when all of us practice this discernment that is for the mature (not the mature male alone), that we will be kept safe from error.
Heb 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
Mike, you said that there is a “general pattern” of male leadership in the Old Testament. However, the term “general” does not make this law since God chose Deborah as a Judge over Israel. When we make a “law” out of “patterns” we are outside of the clear “pattern” of God who always gave a distinct sound regarding His law. It is a man-made “law” that forbids a woman to participate in public questions and the discerning of truth from error. God has made no such law that forbids a woman to participate in public and any attempt at trying to “sort of” or “kind of” find such a law to impose on godly Christian women falls to the ground under close examination.
Mike, you also said that Priscilla was not disciplined for correcting Apollos because she did the correction privately. However, there was no such law that would have forbidden her from correcting him publicly. We also note that the public speaking that Apollos did that was in need of correcting was not done in the Christian assembly where both men and women had the freedom to speak out, but it was done in the synagogue where women were restricted from speaking. Since Apollos was witnessing in the synagogue about Jesus, and since he was speaking accurate things about Jesus (Acts 18:25), there was no need for a public correction. Priscilla with her husband Aquilla took Apollos aside to explain the way of God more accurately. This doesn’t imply that he was in error but that he needed to be taught what he was missing – a more accurate understanding. The Greek word for “accurate” is a term that focuses on careful attention to the details. According to the BDAG Lexicon, it means “strict conformity to a standard or norm, with the focus on careful attention, accurately, carefully, well”.
In regards to your comment about 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word “authento” is a unique term that is never repeated in the scriptures. Its meaning is not altogether clear although there are no examples of a positive meaning for this word in historical records. Thus it is a very unwise thing to set up a “law” on another “unclear sound” with no biblical evidence at all that Paul was stopping godly teaching rather than stopping the teaching of error which is clear in the context of 1 Tim. 1:3, 7.
Next, if the requirements of 1 Tim. 3:2 “husband of one wife” are a “law” that forbids godly Christian women from following 1 Tim. 3:1 where “anyone” (see 1 Tim. 3:1 ESV) may aspire to the work of overseer, then it must also be a “law” that the one who does the work of overseer must also be married and must also have children (1 Tim. 3:4, 5). For anyone to make a “law” from one part of the “must be above reproach” moral requirement and fail to hold to the rest of the details, in the same way, they would be appealing to an unclear sound as far as “law” goes. Those who fail to forbid single men or who fail to forbid married men who are without children from doing the work of an overseer while at the same time forbidding godly Christian women from desiring the work of an overseer, would be guilty of making a moral requirement out to be an unclear and unexplained contradictory and discriminatory “law”.
Mike, you also said that 1 Tim. 3:2 “able to teach” means that “the man is to be the teacher”. This is another unclear word. Paul did not say that only overseers can teach (although overseers in their work must be able to teach), nor did he say that only pastors and elders can teach. We cannot force 1 Timothy 3:2 as a limitation on who teaches in the congregation since this would be a very unclear word, and an unclear understanding of this passage. If Paul meant that only men could teach, then Paul could have clearly and distinctly said that only men are allowed to teach.
In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul does not say that a woman is not allowed to teach men (plural). That would imply that the prohibition is regarding a public teaching. Instead, Paul forbid “a woman” from teaching “a man” so the implication is that whatever is forbidden is applicable at least at the private one-one-one level. However the connection to deception in verse 14 and the concern about the salvation (verse 15) of the one who is stopped from teaching leads to a much more natural understanding that Paul is not stopping correct godly teaching, but the teaching of error. We simply cannot understand 1 Tim. 2:12 by removing this verse from its complete context of 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Verse 15 is the conclusion to verse 12, and without the conclusion, the prohibition becomes an indistinct sound.
If Paul is dealing with a specific situation in Ephesus regarding a specific false teacher, it becomes clear why Paul put this prohibition in a personal letter to Timothy rather than in a general letter to the church. If taken as a general “law” for all godly women it becomes an indistinct and unclear “law”. Without repetition of this law anywhere else in a book to the entire church that would make the indistinct “law” to be clear, it remains as a failure to qualify as a clear, universal “law” that would set limitations on the wise biblical teaching of women. It also remains unclear why Paul would tell us in 1 Corinthians 14 that we should all seek spiritual gifts for the edification of all and then in 1 Timothy 2 force all women to withhold their God-given gifts of teaching from men. General application then is an “indistinct and unclear” sound while a specific application to a specific situation would not violate any of the liberating commands that Paul has given to women.
Mike, I really appreciate your willingness to answer questions. This openness is commendable and refreshing. I also appreciate that you have allowed your answers to be challenged and tested. I trust that all can see that the answers provided by Mike are an indistinct sound and an unclear “law” that fails the test of clear, biblical “laws” which were all designed by God to provide an accurate identification of sin. Without that clear sound, how will one know to turn away from sin?
Mike’s response to Cheryl:
Cheryl, thanks for your response to my answer to your question (did that make sense?!? HA!). Obviously, I disagree on numerous points, but I think our later Q&A will hit a lot of this. My greatest problem with your view is that you siphon away all the passages that could possibly go against your position instead of giving the consideration that when Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man”(1 Tim 2:12)…he may have really meant “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” The idea that you put forth that allows woman to lead, teach, and exercise authority over men is based on me not having a “law” to back up my position. I’m really not trying to be mean hear, but I’m just reading what it says and trying to apply it. I don’t think it can be explained away that women were falsely teaching or any other explanation the make the passage to mean exactly the opposite of what it says. I agree that v.11 through 15 go together and that v. 15 is a hard verse to understand, but I don’t think we can say because the end of that passage is difficult, let’s just throw out verse 12.
I also don’t think it is wise to throw out the 1 Timothy 3:2 overseer qualification “the husband of one wife” when Paul has it in there. He could have spoken to women/wives in this context as he did in the deacon qualification in v. 8-13, but Paul didn’t. I just think there is probably a reason for that. Paul says “husband of one wife” (or “man of one woman”) to make sure that the overseer was not practicing polygamy, so hopefully a single man would not be practicing polygamy either, or he would be unqualified. A single man, however, would still be a “he.”
It seems like our interpretations come down to this: Is what is written true or is what is written so unclear and misconstrued that we cannot find what is true in it so we should dismiss it?
Cheryl, it is a joy to get to correspond with you, and I respect you. Though we disagree, I’m thankful for the conversation.
Cheryl’s second question to Mike and Mike’s answer will be posted on August 3rd.