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.

Leave a Reply