Monthly Archives: July 2017

Selective Precision

While seeking to rectify Priscilla’s teaching of Apollos in Acts 18:26 with Paul’s ban on women teaching or exercising authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:12, I came across a very interesting website that explores the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism. As I read through several of the articles, a completely separate issue began to make its way to the forefront of my mind.

Marg Mowczko very rightly and accurately points out in her article Were There Women Elders in New Testament Churches? (Part 2) that the word used for “elders” in the New Testament is a third person plural adjective. Just like English, the Greek third person plural is gender neutral, which means that, in theory, “elders” could be a group of men, a group of women, or a mixed group. The precision with which Mowczko analyzes the word’s use in the New Testament and the instances in which it almost certainly includes women in the group is commendable.

She then says in her article 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (Part 5) that “difficulties and uncertainties should preclude 1 Timothy 2:12 from being used as a definitive text or proof text on the issue of women in ministry.” In other words, Paul’s intended meaning is unclear, and one cannot claim to know with certainty how 1 Timothy 2:12 impacts the issue of women in ministry.

Then, only two sentences later, she says, “The language shows that it [1 Timothy 2:12] was not intended to be a universal, timeless ban on all women as teachers or leaders.” Wait a minute. I thought there were difficulties and uncertainties associated with 1 Timothy 2:12 that preclude anyone knowing whether Paul intended his ban to be universal or not.

As I contemplated what I had just read, it dawned on me that all Christians want the Bible to teach what they believe, but the real question is whether we want to believe what the Bible teaches.

It is very easy for us to come to the Bible looking for justification for our beliefs, applying exegetical and theological precision when it benefits us and then using more pliable methods when the text does not quite fit with what we already think. The real challenge is to recognize what we bring with us to the text and then analyze precisely how that presupposition influences our interpretation and then determine whether or not that presupposition has helped us arrive at the author’s intended meaning or whether it has prevented us from arriving at the author’s intended meaning.

No one comes to the Bible with a blank slate. We all look at the text through a particular lens. Our summons as those who desire to follow Christ is to ask whether our lens brings the meaning of the text into focus or whether it blurs the meaning. At different times, it will most certainly do both. When the lens clarifies the author’s meaning, we must by all means keep looking through that lens. When it obscures the author’s meaning, we must seek a new prescription or be in danger of following our own preconceived notions that were hatched somewhere in the recesses of our own psyche.

Receiving the Word With Great Eagerness

“The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

–Acts 17:10–11 NASB

All Christians should “receive the word with great eagerness,” but what exactly does that mean? If we were to take the phrase by itself, we might conclude that it means taking the word at face value and not asking any questions or applying any critical thought. Fortunately, though, Luke does not give us the phrase by itself. He provides an additional qualifying phase that tells exactly what he means by “received the word with great eagerness.”

Luke tells us that the way the Bereans received the word with great eagerness was by “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things [spoken by Paul] were so.” Think about that for a moment. Examining the Scriptures to determine whether the things spoken by the minister of the word is the way in which the word is received with great eagerness.

The lesson here is short and simple. Anyone who hears the word of God proclaimed by the mouth of a man has the obligation to examine the written word of God in order to determine whether the words spoken by the minister are congruent with the written word of God.

Tyrants would have us think otherwise. They wish us to accept their spoken word as if it were the very word of God without asking any questions. While it is true that we must accept the spoken word as if it were the very word of God, we must only do so when the spoken word is actually the word of God. There is only one way to determine if the spoken word is the word of God. That is by examining the Scriptures to see if the things spoken are congruent with what is written.

So, I encourage all Christians everyone to be Berean and accept the word of God with great eagerness by examining the Scriptures carefully to see if the things spoken by the minister are congruent with the words written in the Bible.

Reasoning From the Scriptures

“Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”

–Acts 17:1–3 (NASB)

What is most striking about this passage is that the Apostle Paul, the man who had the risen Lord appear to him and commission him as an apostolic missionary, reasons with the Jews from the Scriptures. What this tells the modern reader is, in short, that any theological conclusion we reach must come from the Scriptures.

For those within the various Christian traditions who still hold a high view of the Bible, this lesson is well-understood and embraced. What may not be understood as clearly, though, is Luke’s intended meaning of “from the Scriptures.” Everyone within my own theological tradition agrees that the Bible is the authoritative rule for all matters of faith and practice; but the Bible is sixty-six books, written in three different languages by more than forty authors over a period of more than a thousand years. All of which means that the Bible lends itself to various methods of interpretation.

So, the question I want to pose is this. When Luke says that Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures,” does he mean that Paul took information contained in Scripture and extrapolated from it, thus reaching conclusions that are not specifically written in Scripture but that have Scripture as their foundation, or does he mean that Paul reasoned with them to accept what God specifically says in Scripture? Luke does not feel the need to provide an answer to that question, but it is one that we must ask ourselves as we formulate our own theological beliefs.

The issue of baptism is a good example of what I am talking about. God does not specifically say anywhere in Scripture that infants of believers should be baptized. Yet, pedobaptists will argue that God says other things that, when put together, lead to the conclusion from the Scriptures that infants of believers should be baptized. Is that what Luke has in mind when he says, “from the Scriptures”?

Matthew Henry believes it is. He says in his commentary on Acts, “The preaching of the gospel should be both scriptural preaching and rational; such Paul’s was, for he reasoned out of the scriptures: we must take the scriptures for our foundation, our oracle, and touchstone, and then reason out of them and upon them.” In other words, we have the duty to take the information contained in Scripture and make rational arguments and conclusions based upon that information.

Though he would agree with Henry on the issue of Baptism, Calvin offers a much narrower definition of “from the Scriptures” in his commentary on Acts, saying, “The proofs of faith are to be sought only from the mouth of God. When we discuss human affairs, human arguments have their place; but in the doctrine of faith, only God’s authority must reign, and we must rely on it.” I admit that it is somewhat unfair to pit Henry and Calvin against each other as they would almost certainly agree on this issue if they were to sit at a table together and discuss it. Nevertheless, Calvin’s words highlight the fact that there is a difference between the authoritative words spoken by the mouth of God (and written in the Bible) and human arguments. It is one thing to reach theological conclusions based upon the inspired words of God, but is it another thing to reach theological conclusions based upon human reasoning that begins with the inspired words of God?

As I said earlier, Luke does not feel the need to answer this question. Yet, we must answer the question for ourselves if we are to trust the theological conclusions we reach. Christians have answered the question in different ways throughout history, so I will not say that one answer is right while another is wrong. Rather, my aim is merely to encourage all Christians to determine for themselves what they mean by “from the Scriptures.”

End Notes

John Calvin, Acts, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), Ac 17:2.

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Ac 17:2.