Monthly Archives: March 2021

Passion Week Devotionals for Mind and Heart …. In a Pandemic Year

Greetings on this Psalm Sunday! A year ago, much of the world was in COVID-19 pandemic mode. A year later, while conditions have improved, there are still many whose Passion Week experience is still relegated to watching stuff on Zoom, YouTube, and Vimeo. For this week, I have dug up a set of online video devotionals, put out by Justin Taylor of Crossway Publishers and the Gospel Coalition, one 3-4 minute video per day, that will help anyone think through the events of Jesus’ last week, before his Crucifixion and Resurrection.  In each segment, an evangelical New Testament scholar walks us through the events each day, giving us a deeper sense of what Holy Week is all about, to inform our life of prayer.

Of course, I am following the Western calendar, but my Eastern Orthodox friends can follow this in a month when they celebrate Pascha (Easter) on May 2nd!  I pray that these devotionals, for head and heart, will edify you:

Psalm Sunday:

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Holy Monday:

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Holy Tuesday:

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Holy Wednesday (some call it “Spy Wednesday”):

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Maundy Thursday:

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Good Friday:

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Black Saturday:

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Easter Sunday:


The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Carl Trueman on Our Cultural Crisis … and “Mr.” Potato Head??

Who am I?” A profound yet difficult question. How does one go about trying to answering it?…. and what does this all have to do with “Mr” and/or “Mrs” Potato Head?

A generation ago, the thought of “a woman being trapped in a man’s body” was commonly rejected as unthinkable silly talk. Such a thought was judged to be simply incoherent.

Today, the idea that anyone can simply define their own gender, as an expression of one’s self, is quite normal, in many social, political, business, and educational institutions. Three examples come to mind to illustrate this:.

  • Among ordinary Americans: A 2020 Gallup poll shows that 1 in 6 Americans, between the ages of 18 and 23, consider themselves to be somewhere in the “LGBTQ” category, as opposed to 1 in 50 Americans, ages 56 and older.
  • In politics: In the month that I am writing this post (March, 2021), the U.S. Senate is considering a bill, already passed in the House of Representatives, called “The Equality Act,” that would enable sweeping changes in current law, regarding how schools, employers, religious-affiliated institutions, and even parents of children handle such questions of self-identity.
  • In business: A book that features testimonies from trans-persons who later regretted pursuing gender reassignment surgeries, or other medical procedures, Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally, was delisted from the world’s largest book seller, Amazon.com, as Amazon says that the book violates their company policy, which prohibits them from selling books that “frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.

That first example alone blows my mind every time I think about it. So, how did this radical perception of the self change so rapidly within such a short period of time?

While still keeping the characters of “Mr” and “Mrs” Potato Head, in February, 2021, Hasbro announced that they will remove the “Mr” from the overall brand name, which is now simply, “Potato Head.” Now “kids [can] create their own type of potato families, including two moms or two dads,” presumably with interchangeable parts, where dads can become moms, and moms can become dads. How did we get here? Carl Trueman helps us out. (Link to the full Hasbro press release, including the video you have to see to believe)

The Roots of Our Current Crisis Regarding the Self

Before going any further, it is important to say that gender dysphoria; that is, having a sense that one’s personal experience of gender is not congruent with one’s biological sex, is a real phenomenon, involving real people, with real confusions and real consequences. We should never be quick to brush off the difficulties facing by people, particularly youth, who struggle deeply with troubling, and often painful experiences related to gender identity. (See my review and personal reflections on Preston Sprinkle’s marvelously helpful book, Embodied: Transgender Identities, The Church, & What the Bible Has to Say ) But aside from such personal and pastoral issues, as important as they are, there is the broader question of how such fluid understandings of gender have emerged in the larger cultural conversation, in the secular West. Where did this sudden emergence of gender identity questions come from?

If you consider yourself to be a thinking Christian, and the current wave of interest in all things “trans” concerns you, then I know of THE book that you need to read: Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution is a long awaited attempt to frame the historical and philosophical factors that have led to our current, cultural moment. Trueman currently serves as a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, but he has had a distinguished career as a Fellow at Princeton University, and in teaching church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Born and raised in England, Trueman is what can best be described as a confessional Protestant, a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, holding fast to an unabashedly Reformed and Puritan mode of evangelical faith, and a cohost of the Mortification of Spin podcast, an intellectually and spiritually invigorating podcast I listen to from time to time. But as Trueman articulates so well in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, he is fully conversant with the best of modern and post-modern philosophy and historical studies. His work is lucid, insightful, and inviting, all at the same time. In fact, you really do not learn of Trueman’s confessional convictions as a Christian, until towards the end of the book, but he does so in a thoughtful and irenic fashion, without shying away from the challenges of today’s controversies.

How Did We Get Here, to This Cultural Moment?

Back to the original question: “Who am I?”  The question of one’s self-identity has undergone a cosmic shift over the past few centuries, argues Trueman. The touchstone on which Trueman places his analysis comes from the thought of the Canadian Roman Catholic philosopher, Charles Taylor, author of the highly acclaimed The Secular Age. But for Trueman’s purposes, he zeroes in on Taylor’s work as to how the concept of the self has changed during the modern and post-modern eras. In particular, Taylor argues that the shift in answering the question, “Who am I?,” has increasingly moved towards an inward, introspective direction. In the premodern world, the concept of self-identity was wrapped up in what some external, objectifying source said about you, such as a parent, a feudal lord, or a priest or other spiritual guide expressing a body of church teaching. The quest to understand one’s self-identity is grounded today in a therapeutic mindset, by “looking within.”

Reinforcing this point, Trueman highlights the thought of American sociologist, Philip Reiff, who says that today we have a “plastic” view of the self, whereby we can fashion our own-self conception to be whatever we like it to be. Together with that, Trueman adds Roman Catholic philosopher Alasdair Macintyre as yet a third voice, who suggests that today’s language of self-expression is primarily “emotive,” namely that today’s ethical “values” are essentially the products of “expressive individualism.”

Trueman contends that this bend towards “expressive individualism” is inescapable now. The Christian church is caught in the thick of it all. Diagnosing how we arrived at this “expressive individualism” is the set of historical ideas that Trueman seeks to unpack in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.

Owing largely to the influence of Sigmund Freud, all of these trends find their biggest impact in the areas of human sexuality and gender: Someone is “gay” because they “feel” that way, and that tells them a lot about “who they are.” Or, as has emerged in recent years, we have the idea that someone can define themselves as being a “man” or a “woman,” simply on the basis of how they “feel.” The language of identity has moved, in small increments, from the objective to the subjective.

Far be it for me to try effectively lay out the full framework of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. I can best refer the reader to consult either the summary reviews written by Regent College theologian Paul Helm, at his website, or at MereOrthodoxy.com. Let it suffice to say that Trueman does a masterful job weaving in the thought of Marx, Freud, and Darwin to buttress his thesis, along with some erudite analysis and critique of the Romantics, like William Blake and Percy Shelley, as well as an engagement with other seminal thinkers like Rousseau and Nietzsche. In particular, I once had a particular fascination for William Blake’s view of Christian spirituality, but Carl Trueman has convinced me that such a warm appreciation has been sorely misplaced, due to Blake’s advocacy of “free love” in his early years. Among a host of other insights, Trueman gave me the most succinct analysis of ethicist Peter Singers’ rationale for accepting abortion that I have ever read, due to Singer’s attack on orthodox Christianity (readers interested in pro-life concerns should read The Rise and Triumph for that reason alone!)

The sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the consequences that have been born out in terms of the legalization of same-sex marriage and widespread public acceptance gender re-imagination, is all the fruit of cultural trends in the past few hundreds of years that Trueman brings to light. While readers may know very little about Rousseau and Nietzsche, in particular, the thought patterns they championed have seeped into all levels of society, from pop-culture to the halls of academia.

Book reviewer Mark Ward calls The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self an “excellent — though long and at times tedious — book.” I would not characterize it as “tedious“, but it does assume at least some familiarity with a number of the world’s greatest thinkers since the 18th century age of Enlightenment, which might be daunting for the uninitiated. But Ward is right to point out that far too often Christians will dismiss the uncomfortable ideas of the Sexual Revolution in a very glib fashion as being “from Satan,” as though that should settle the matter. This is naive.

All ideas, including evil ones, do not spring up from nowhere. They have a history. There is a path that such ideas follow. At first, these ideas appear to be ridiculous. But then slowly over time, they gain more and more traction, until whole societies will adopt them as perfectly acceptable. For Westerners in the 21st century, this is including not simply mainline liberal Protestant churches, but even evangelical churches, to varying degrees. Today, we see the growth of such ideas being slowly cultivated, which eventually bears the fruit that we see all around us. Reviewer Andrew T. Walker likewise has other helpful insights, as well as does this interview with Trueman by Fred Zaspel.

One particular application has to do with how poorly Protestant evangelicalism, in general, does at presenting a truly sacramental expression of distinguishing between male and female, in the life of the church. Far too often, evangelical churches will get sidelined with questions about whether or not women can serve as elders/pastors in a local church, thereby missing the deeper question as to how churches can effectively model what it means to be Fathers and Mothers, in an age where understandings of gender and human sexuality owe more to cultural stereotypes, as opposed to reflecting on the great theological truths of the Christian faith. We live in age when differences between male and female are often reduced to something merely having to do “with the plumbing,” and even that can be altered, with the appropriate medical procedure.

 

Calling All Christians To Think Theologically… and Imaginatively

Trueman admits that diagnosing the problem is one thing. The harder part comes in trying to come up with an adequate solution. The chaos resulting from this therapeutic revolution appears to have no end in sight. Furthermore, this reconceptualization of the self has political consequences. It is not enough to merely tolerate inward expressions of the self. They must all be recognized as morally valid. This explains why the ratcheting up of the culture wars, over the previous few decades, have now reached such a high, fever pitch. The advocacy for the “Equality Act” is no historical accident. It is the culmination of years of culture pressure, building up slowly over time.

Trueman does suggest that the answer for Christians, in how to respond to this movement, lies in the importance of community. As Christians grapple with these issues, they need to do so within the context of a worshipping community, in submission to the study of the Scriptures, as opposed to working out their angst on their Facebook and Instagram social media pages.

Comparatively, the so-called LGBTQ community, though it is hardly a monolithic entity, has enjoyed strong bonds of community, over the past few decades. Such bonds are in many ways as supportive, if not more supportive, than what you find in many Christian churches. But the communal cohesion of the LGBTQ movement has been its primary engine for success, and orthodox-minded Christians have much to learn from this strong sense of community bonding.

As far as the “Potato Head” brand goes, the idea of mixing and matching “Mr” and “Mrs” Potato Heads, with presumably interchangeable parts, to produce different varieties of families and gender transitions, is merely one of the many ways Philip Reiff’s concept of the “plastic” self is being integrated into the norms of post-modern society. Critics of those who are concerned about this transformation of the self will surely dismiss such criticism as being hyper-over-reactive. But it is the up-and-coming generation of young people who will be left trying to figure all of this stuff out.

What To Do About It?

Is the answer to try to boycott Hasbro? Probably not, at least not in the long run. Neither is trying to return to some “golden age” of Christendom the answer either, through trying to control and takeover the machinery of civil government. At least, that is my take, and from reading The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, I gather this is Carl Trueman’s perspective as well. Applying such cultural pressure might accomplish something in the short run, but it will surely just enrage proponents of such cultural shifts, causing them to double-down against Christian “intolerance.”

Thankfully, Christians are not alone in their anxiety about all of this. There are also secular liberals, and other thinkers, who are deeply concerned about such fluid understandings of the self. Consider best-selling author Abigail Shrier, from her appearance before Congress arguing against the proposed Equality Act. Her testimony that the Equality Act would encourage great harm against women and girls, in our society. But Christians need to go further than this, with a more transformative outlook upon contemporary Western culture.

What it does take is for Christians to learn how to think about the Bible’s view of the self, and how that is contrast with today’s view of the self. Christians ranging from plumbers and construction workers to soccer moms to college professors need to be able articulate an evangelical theology of the self. This is not a job just to be left with pastors and Christians public intellectuals. It is something that must be cultivated in Christian small groups meeting in living rooms, Bible classes meeting in church buildings, and in one-on-one get togethers for coffee and lunch.

Every Christian believer needs to be a theologian able to articulate a theological anthropology that adequately describes a Scriptural view of the self. Christians can then help their non-believing neighbors understand the beauty of what God intended for humanity, without flaming the passions of the culture wars. Christians need to rediscover the value of natural law, and think creatively to stir the imagination with a genuine picture of what the Kingdom of God really looks like, that our secular neighbors might find attractive. We must recover the art of persuasion. Thinkers like G. K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis did this in their generations. We need new Christian voices to do the same in ours. Carl Trueman sets out the task before us.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is surely to be one of the most, if not “the” most, important and reasonably accessible intellectual history of the West to date, that bears consequences in the marketplace, the voting booth, and in the world of education, that shapes our children. Christians need to be conversant in these matters, so that we can be better persuaders of the truth of the Gospel, as opposed to automatically going to the “you must be Satan” line of attack, and thus stopping the conversation. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self will help the thoughtful Christian to engage these new and revolutionary ideas, that appear to be going mainstream, so that we might be able to have thoughtful and meaningful discussions, even where there are sharp points of disagreement. This is a must-read for Christian pastors and thought leaders, or any Christian committed to thinking deeply about the rise and triumph of the modern self.

A number of excellent interviews with Carl Trueman are available on YouTube, but I found this discussion between Southern Baptist Seminary president Al Mohler and Trueman to be particularly engaging.  You may not agree with every aspect of the discussion, but if you are on the sidelines about whether or not to read this book, I would urge you to listen to an interview like this, and I believe you will agree that the topic is perhaps one of the most timely and important ones Christians, as well as non-Christians, need to have together.


Women Should Keep Silent in Church? : A Corinthian Conundrum Considered

Should “women keep silent in the churches,” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35? Is it really “shameful for a woman to speak in church?” This is one of those more difficult passages in the Bible, for several reasons.

Some critics of the Christian faith read these verses from Paul, and they therefore conclude that Christianity is hopelessly misogynistic. A few cases in church history have shown that there is a grain of truth here, so the church does need to take this on the chin, to a certain extent.

Various Christians leaders, ranging from Tertullian to Thomas Aquinas, believed from these verses that women should not sing or pray out loud, when men were present. Some Presbyterians up through the late 19th century restricted women from singing in church worship services.

The #MeToo movement today has led many to believe that the church still silences the voices of women…. in ways that go much beyond women’s participation in a worship service, with more perverse consequences. The well-publicized moral failure of evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias, accused of sexually abusing other women, sadly reminds us of this. Compounding this, I learned a few days before publishing this post, that Beth Moore, a popular women’s Bible study leader, and a sexual abuse survivor, has left her denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, saying that her denomination has not done enough to listen to the voices of women who have suffered sexual abuse in that Protestant tradition.

Other liberal-minded, or “progressive” Christians, will point out that Jesus was definitely NOT misogynistic, but will claim that Paul probably was, based on certain Bible passages like what we read in 1 Corinthians 14. Some so-called “Red-Letter Christians,” simply take Jesus over Paul, when it comes to teaching regarding women. Others might merely comment on Paul’s inconsistency of thought, when elsewhere in Galatians 3:28, he says that there is neither “male [nor] female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28 then becomes the paradigm by which we can throwout other verses of the Bible that trouble us. So, we just have to put up with the rest of Paul’s lingering misogyny, when we find it here and there, and thus roll our eyes when we get to such passages as found in 1 Corinthians 14.

While these progressivist approaches are meant to somehow salvage Christian faith, it all comes across as rather desperate, and does not lend itself to give us a great deal of confidence in the Bible as God’s inspired word. After all, if Jesus really did select Paul to be his representative voice to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:1), as Paul repeatedly claims, then if Paul failed at the job, this would also reflect poorly upon Jesus. Do any genuine Christians really believe that Jesus royally messed up when he picked out Paul to be his great ambassador to the Gentiles? I would certainly hope not!

When Christians default to this kind of thinking, we end up with a faith that merely picks and chooses verses of the Bible we do like, and reject the rest, a “cafeteria” approach to Christianity, which is really no Christian faith at all. However, a closer look at the Scriptural evidence shows that there are better approaches to this difficult passage, that do not demand the reader to adopt some extremist viewpoint, whether it be on the progressive or traditionalist end of the controversy.

When I wrote my multi-part blog series on “women in ministry” two years ago, I purposely avoided discussing this passage because of its complexity, as I will show in this current blog post. There are basically three different approaches that Bible scholars propose, to try to resolve the difficulty in 1 Corinthians 14: (1) Paul is addressing a particular situation in the early Christian church, that we are largely unfamiliar with today, (2) Paul never actually wrote this passage in his letter. It was inserted by a later copyist into the text of 1 Corinthians, or (3) Paul is quoting a Corinthian objection to women speaking in church, with the purpose of refuting their argument. Let us examine each proposal in turn.

Is Paul Addressing a Particular, Cultural Situation, That Would Require Women to Remain Silent in Church?

No matter where you land in the “women in ministry” debate, often referred to by theologians as the “complementarian/egalitarian controversy,” 1 Corinthians 14:34-45 presents difficulties that extend far beyond the claims of misogyny in the Bible.

The most pressing issue is that 1 Corinthians 11 is actually encouraging women to pray and prophesy in church worship settings. Paul specifically urges women to wear a head covering, but he certainly allows women to speak in church, through prayer and/or prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5).1  Paul’s climatic verse honoring male and female equally, Galatians 3:28, only raises the stakes higher.2 So, if Paul allows for women to speak in 1 Corinthians 11, but then forbids women to speak in 1 Corinthians 14, just three chapters later, that would indicate that Paul was contradicting himself, or that he said one thing at first, only to change his mind later in the letter. Having this type of in-your-face contradiction is not suitable for something claiming to be the Word of God.

But if you follow the time-honored principle of Scripture-interpreting-Scripture, you can look at a parallel passage to get a hint at what is going on. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 includes these phrases that can remind the reader of 1 Corinthians 14:3

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness…. she is to remain quiet”

Readers often focus on the “she is to remain quiet” part. Some might run off in a huff and mutter, “There goes that misogynistic Paul again!” But what is typically missed is that Paul wants women to “learn.” Why might that be an important cultural clue that students of the Bible should notice?

In contemporary Western culture, we regularly take for granted that both men and women should be properly educated. However, in the first century Greco-Roman society, the education of women was the exception, rather than the norm.

Imagine yourself in an elementary or middle school classroom today, and a substitute teacher comes in, but they show little ability to keep control of the classroom. If left to their own devices, the students will talk amongst themselves, resulting in chaos, and no learning occurs in the classroom.

Since women in the first century rarely participated in classroom-type settings, they would be very prone to be disruptive in instructional situations, including church services. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, believed that the ministry of teaching was essential to the mission of the church, and he firmly believed that order was necessary to allow for learning to take place. But what was so radical about Paul is that he specifically encouraged women to learn the Scriptures, along with the men. In doing so, Paul was widely out of step with the dominant culture, that saw no reason for educating women. Our current day Western culture, which evidently values the education of both men and women, is in many ways the multi-century product of the Apostle Paul’s radical vision completely overturning a fully misogynist society, in Greco-Roman times (Just consider historian Tom Holland’s view of Christian history).

Therefore, far from being a misogynist, one could safely argue that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 follows the same pattern as 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Paul wants women to learn, but he wants them to learn within the context of an orderly learning environment, where there are not constant interruptions, and people are actively listening. Here are the two controversial verses from 1 Corinthians, in full:

34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

The advantage of this approach is that it modifies Paul’s encouragement for women to actively participate in various ways during the worship service, in 1 Corinthians 11, for a legitimate cultural purpose. For the sake of preserving order within the church, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul follows the same pattern as taught also in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Because of this, the general tone of consistency across all of the passages of Scripture involved, and the weight of tradition down through the ages, many if not most Christians find this proposal to be most likely and acceptable.4

The downside to this approach is that such a cultural modification may not satisfy all critics of this proposal. Some might still say that the while the in-your-face contradiction is removed in this interpretation, it is not wholly removed. It is merely muted.

Furthermore, supporters of this proposal will often note that women “are not permitted to speak, and should be in submission, as the Law also says.” So, where does “the Law” say that women are not to speak, out of submission? Supporters of this view contend that the Old Testament in general teaches this principle. But detractors against this view observe that there is no specific Old Testament passage, in the Law of Moses, which requires women to be silent, within the context of submission. Male headership? Yes. But the silence of women? Not explicitly. You will search the Old Testament in vain to try to find such a prooftext.

We do find instances of women being asked to remain silent in the oral tradition of the Jewish law. However, Jesus frequently rejected the oral tradition of the Pharisees, arguing that the oral law of the Pharisees would often nullify the commands of the written law, as found in our Old Testament (see Matthew 15:1-6). Therefore, according to critics of this view, if we understand that Jesus rejected the oral tradition of the Pharisees, it seems highly unlikely that Paul would be commending the oral tradition here. Nevertheless, supporters of this view contend that the Old Testament; that is, “the Law,”  implicitly instructs for women to be silent in worship, out of submission.

A close variation of this particular proposal notes that 1 Corinthians 14 includes a lengthy discussion of the proper order in a church worship setting, where people offer a “tongue” or prophetic word. In this view, the prohibition against women speaking in church is not absolute. Rather, it is intended to be a prohibition against women evaluating prophecy, specifically. Again, Paul is most concerned about establishing order within a church worship service; thereby necessitating his command that uneducated women should behave in an orderly fashion in a church worship service. Again, the concept of what “the Law also says” is a broad appeal to order within the practice of corporate worship, in opposition to having confusion distorting that practice. For example:

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

We then get to Paul’s principle that addresses how women are to behave in church. This Pauline ruling emphasizes the universal extent of this teaching, “as in all the churches of the saints” (v.33b), with the concluding admonition that “all things should be done decently and in order.”

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.5

Paul does not want women to look foolish or be shamed in church, so he seeks to honor women, who have received less education than the men. But this call for order, between the sexes, is not something Paul merely wants. He reminds his readers that this call for order is also a command from the Lord. In other words, there is a timeless principle involved, which has a particular application in this 1st century church situation.

Did an Unknown Copyist Insert Verses 34-35 Into 1 Corinthians 14?

This second particular approach is very interesting, in that it dives into the nitty-gritty of how the Bible got to be English Bible we have today. In the days of the early church, they had neither computers nor Xerox copying machines to preserve written documents. Instead, the church relied on copyists to continually copy the Bible over and over again, for each new generation of readers, as written materials tended to decay over time.

In the vast majority of cases, the New Testament copyists did exceedingly well in preserving the ancient text, that would eventually become the basis for our English Bibles today. However, there were times when mistakes were made, and textual critics are needed to step in and analyze where such mistakes were made, in order to correct them.

Nevertheless, there are certain cases where even the finest textual critical scholars are not in complete agreement regarding the authenticity of certain, small portions of the New Testament.  A classic example of such controversy is regarding Mark 16:9-20. Most English Bibles today will note that some of the earliest manuscripts do not include Mark 16:9-20.  Opinion is divided as to what to make of Mark 16:9-20, but many scholars contend that Mark 16:9-20 was not original to the Gospel of Mark, because of the big differences among the manuscripts.

This becomes important because there are some churches that will use Mark 16:18 as the basis for snake handling in church, “they will pick up serpents with their hands,” and they will not get hurt by those snakes … Uh… I will go with the scholarly majority on this one. How about that? 😉

Interesting, there are some textual critical scholars who put 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in the same category. The larger majority of English translations follow the standard order for these verses, but this verse ordering is following only one particular tradition.

The “Western” tradition of manuscripts, and a few other variations put these verses after the very end of the chapter, after verse 40. It would read like this (we can start with verse 33, to get a feel for it):

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order…. .34 The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

So, where do these two verses really go? Between verses 33 and 36, as found in most Bibles today? Or after verse 40?

Some scholars conclude that the confusion over where to put these verses may indicate that this passage is an example of what scholars call an “interpolation,” where something of a different nature is inserted into something else. In other words, some scribal copyist may have inserted these two verses into the text, merely as a side commentary in the margins, and then this got copied into the main body of the text by later copyists, who never detected the illegitimate insertion.6

The advantage of this approach is that it raises enough suspicion about the precise nature of these two verses, such that it would warrant any Christian to proceed with caution, and not make a whole doctrine out of these two verses, in the event we eventually learn that these two verses were wrongly inserted into the New Testament, not by Paul himself, but rather, by a later copyist.

The downside to the proposal is that we have zero New Testament documents that omit these two verses. So, in this particular case of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, it does not match up exactly with the situation we have with Mark 16:9-20, where there are certain early manuscripts that omit those verses altogether.

Was Paul Quoting a Corinthian Saying, For the Purpose of Refuting It?

This last major approach to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 actually turns the whole idea of Paul approving of the idea found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 on its head. This proposal suggests that what Paul is doing here is quoting from a Corinthian saying, that would prohibit women from speaking in church, for the purpose of utterly refuting it. A little background is in order to understand this.

First, when the New Testament was originally written, and copied by copyists later, down through the centuries, there were no quotation marks in those ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. This tradition of not having quotation marks available, to aid the reader, was even extended to the popular English version of the Bible, the King James Version. You will not find quotation marks in the King James Bible, but you will find them in more modern translations, as scholars have been able to detect where a New Testament author was quoting from some other source, as opposed to where they were not quoting from an outside source.

Next, it is important to know that there were other letters involving Paul, aside from 1 and 2 Corinthians, which are not available to us in our Bibles. 1 Corinthians should probably be called “2 Corinthians” instead, because Paul has already mentioned a previous letter he wrote to the church of Corinth, which is now lost (1 Corinthians 5:9). Evidently, Paul is writing our traditionally called “1 Corinthians,” found in our Bibles, partly to respond to another letter sent by the Corinthians to him. This letter from Corinth, was probably written in response to Paul’s first, now lost letter to the Corinthian church:  “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote” (1 Corinthians 7:1).

In answering the Corinthians previous letter to him, Paul quotes certain sections of that letter, and then he responds to those concerns. For example, read the opening of chapter 7 in full:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.

The quoted Corinthian saying is highlighted above. The Corinthians, in this particular quotation, were saying that celibacy is the only appropriate calling of the Christian, whereas Paul rejects that argument and affirms the validity of marriage as a genuine calling for the Christian, where sexual relations should rightly take place.

Paul makes rhetorical use of the Greek word translated into English as “or” in order to argue against the Corinthian position (1 Corinthians 1:13; 6:16; 9:6, 8, 10; 11:22), or to reject a particular practice at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 6:2; 9, 19; 10:22; 11:13).

One particular case shows how Paul’s rhetorical skill works: In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul first lays out the Corinthian quoted sayings, with some brief responses interspersed (in this instance). Paul’s purpose here is to rebuke the Corinthian mindset, which was allowing certain unethical conduct to continue on unchecked:

12 All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.13 Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Note the highlighted phrases, which are quotes from the Corinthians. Then Paul unloads on his original readers by interjecting his rhetorical “or” to refute the thinking of the Corinthians fully (see the highlights in verses 16 and 19):

14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

This same type of pattern has been recognized by various scholars in our 1 Corinthian 14 passage under review (note the quoted part, that I have highlighted, for verses 34-35, as well as the rhetorical “or” language in verse 36):

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,
34 The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers and sisters, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
Verse 36 could also be translated as follows, substituting the acceptable English exclamation “what” for the rhetorical use of “or”:   “What!!? Was it from you that the word of God came? What!? Are you the only ones it has reached?” 

The point here is that Paul is quoting a Corinthian saying, in verses 34-35, for the purposes of refuting it, starting with Paul’s mockery of the Corinthians in verse 36.

The more substantial argument for this interpretation relies on the gender implied by the language used in this entire passage, noted above. The idea that women should remain silent, is part of the Corinthian logic. Yet Paul specifically uses masculine language in verse 36. In New Testament Greek, as in many other gendered languages, masculine language can refer to “men only” or “men and women.” But in this case, since women are being specifically addressed in verses 34-35, and the fact that the “from you” and the “only ones” mentioned in verse 36, are masculine, it would consistently indicate that Paul is addressing “men only” in this verse. For if Paul had intended his rebuke against the women of Corinth specifically, Paul would have used feminine language in verse 36, which he has not. Therefore, this would indicate Paul’s rebuke is directed against the men in Corinth, who are promoting this false teaching.

A reinforcement of this interpretation comes from observing that “the Law” referenced in verses 34-35 probably comes from the oral law, and not the written law, associated with the New Testament. In other words, it would make sense for Paul to rebuke the Judaizers in Corinth, who wish for the Christians to hold to the oral Jewish law.

Paying attention to the gender of the language, verse 36 could more accurately be translated as follows:

What!!? Was it from you men that the word of God came? What!? Are you men the only ones it has reached?”

Far from approving of the “silence of women,” Paul is actually reinforcing his argument from 1 Corinthians 11 that women should be encouraged to participate in the church worship service, through the exercise of prayer and prophesy, just as the men do. As long as things are done in an orderly fashion, Paul is encouraging men and women to worship together.

A fully reconstructed reading of the passage might look like this, with all of the important contextual differences highlighted :

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.
34 The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
36 What!!? Was it from you men that the word of God came?  What!?  Are you men the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers and sisters, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

The advantage of this approach is that it completely removes all possible contradictions between 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14, thus serving an apologetic purpose for defending Scripture better than other approaches. It also has a great deal of supportive, contextual evidence, as it extends a well known pattern of how Paul interacts with the quotations of the Corinthians, in this letter, to make this particular difficult passage exceedingly less difficult.7

The downside to this proposal is that it completely flips a great deal of traditional teaching regarding this passage. Has this more contextualized approach met the burden of proof to sufficiently overcome more traditional interpretations of this passage?

Clearing Up Confusion over a Corinthian Conundrum

Which proposal to resolving this Bible difficulty is best? You be the judge based on the evidence, knowing that this blog post is but a brief exposition of the main ideas and points of evidence available.

My own conclusion at this point is that the final proposal, that of this being a quotation/refutation device used by Paul to support his teaching that women should participate fully and NOT be silent in church, has the greatest amount of explanatory power. The clincher for me is that I am very skeptical of the idea the Paul would approvingly cite a portion of the Jewish oral law, as binding on the Corinthian church, particularly when Jesus makes such a big deal about how the oral traditions of the Pharisees have led them to fail to see the truth of the Gospel. The idea that Paul would knowingly leave a potential contradiction like this in one of his letters, without any clarifying explanation, is unbecoming to the character of sacred Scripture, in my mind. Nor am I convinced that some later Christian scribe would insert a similar reference to the Jewish oral law, centuries later into the New Testament. However, the other two positions are still acceptable, given the assumptions they carry, so I have no reason to be dogmatic here. The point is that we need not “bring back the patriarchy” in order to have a fully authentic Scriptural faith that properly incorporates 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. But neither do we need to throw certain passages of Paul out, simply because we do not like the taste of them.

It is important to note that Paul nevertheless affirms a principle of order, when it comes to the practice of Christian corporate worship. He also acknowledges that there are real differences between men and women, and that such differences should be honored and upheld by all of the churches of God. In particular, men and women are not interchangeable in the mind of Paul, as expressed through the Scriptures, as it is clearly taught in 1 Corinthians, particularly in 1 Corinthians 11. As London-based pastor and author, Andrew Wilson, puts it, there is a “beautiful difference” between male and female, a complementarity in how men relate to women, and vice-versa, and this is something that the New Testament calls all Christians to celebrate.

Notably, 1 Corinthians makes absolutely zero mention of elders and/or overseers in the church at Corinth. Paul is primarily concerned about how the entire local church body functions, men and women together, giving honor and glory to God. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is not interested in addressing how the church should be governed, nor is he making any special plea regarding how the sheep are to be shepherded, by those entrusted to their care. Paul leaves the discussion of such other matters, particularly with respect to church elders and/or overseers, to the Pastoral Letters, with a particular focus found in 1 Timothy.

For more reflection on the centrality of 1 Timothy for articulating a sacramentalist approach to honoring the distinction of male and female, within the context of a local church, please explore the “women in ministry” blog series, linked here.

 

Notes:

1. The head covering issue is troubling for many as well, as most American Christian women, aside from certain traditions like the Mennonites, do not use head coverings. But the whole topic of head coverings is fascinating, that deserves separate attention. I urge readers to get a copy of Michael Heiser’s Angels, to dig into the nitty gritty of what is going on with head coverings, in a way that will probably surprise you. I reviewed Angels in 2020, and wrote about it here.  ALSO: in this blog post, I am mainly quoting from the ESV translation of the Bible.

2. Please note that Galatians 3:28 is getting abused more and more in the current Western culture climate. To learn about this, see this blog post from 2020.  

3. 1 Timothy 2:12 is probably one of, if not the most, controversial verses in the New Testament today. I address the central concerns in other blog posts (#1, #2, #3). But in this blog post, only the women being “quiet” part is being addressed.  

4. Some even say that the supposed contradiction (according to Sam Storms), between 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14, is way overstated. Some contend that 1 Corinthians 11:5, “but every wife (or woman) who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven,” is really a conditional statement. It should be read as “if a woman were to pray or prophesy with an uncovered head, it would be disgraceful.”  Paul only rejects the whole practice of women praying or prophesying in church until 1 Corinthians 14. But this type of translation appears to be a case of special pleading, as I know of no other English translation that tries to translate 1 Corinthians 11:5 in this matter. A variation of this view suggests that 1 Corinthians 11 teaches that a married woman should wear a head covering, when around their marriage husbands, in a private setting, and this practice has nothing to do with a public, corporate act of worship. But 1 Corinthians 11:16 refutes this idea, as this practice is applicable in all of “the churches of God,” which would indicate a public, worship setting. I only mention this perspective as there are only tiny minorities of Christians who hold to such views.  

5. Note that the word “brothers” highlighted here generally means “brothers and sisters,” when in the plural form. Other translations, such as the NIV specifically spell out that both men and women, “brothers and sisters” are addressed here. While the majority of complementarian scholars accept this particular proposal, a number of egalitarian scholars are open to some variation of this proposal as well, such as Marg Mowcko, a prominent egalitarians blogger, whom I used for reference for doing research for this blog post. Complementarian Denny Burk takes the alternative view described in this section of the blog post, staying within the scope of this particular proposal. Author Aimee Byrd takes a position midway between Mowcko and Burk. Burk takes the position that women are only being restricting from judging prophecies. Yet for some very Reformed interpreters, even this solution is going too far

6. The most notable proponent of this “interpolation” view is made by Gordon Fee, in his New International Commentary of the New Testament, on First Corinthians.

7. Kirk MacGregor is a very articulate, persuasive proponent for the “quotation-refutation device” rhetorical proposal. I have tried to summarize MacGregor’s argument in this blog post. 


Let Loose The Seuss!!

Critics of Dr. Seuss find the “Chinese man, Who eats with sticks” (lower left) to be racially offensive, found on this page from And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, recently taken off the market, due to pressure from woke-ness critics.

Did Dr. Seuss really get canceled? As with all of these “woke-ness” controversies, there is some grain of truth in every complaint.

In his earlier years, of the 1930s and 1940s, Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a “Dr. Seuss,” did advertising and political cartoons, featuring some occasional racist themes, which was not terribly unusual during those times. But his greatest legacy was the series of children’s books, that I feasted on as a kid. Over time, Seuss’ cartoon books matured, overcoming earlier missteps, and have continued to have tremendous staying power, for newer generations of children.

Perhaps the Dr. Seuss Enterprises took the step to cease publication of certain titles, such as Seuss’ first children’s book And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, to preemptively assuage Seuss’ anti-racism critics. After all, The Cat and the Hat has for years received accusations of promoting racist stereotypes. But it would be a shame to cancel The Cat and the Hat.

The trend towards taking certain written materials out of the marketplace is deeply disturbing. Private companies have the right to do what they want, but it does not bode well for instilling the value of freedom of speech, for rising generations. As a Christian, where freedom of speech is threatened, the threat against the freedom of religious expression is not too far behind.

Thankfully, there are others, who would not consider themselves conservative Christians, who share the same concerns. The Intellectual Dark Web is a loose collection of mainly (though not exclusively) classic liberal thinkers who believe that the contemporary fascination with “woke-ness” and various forms of critical theory present the greatest threat to Western civilization, in our day. Among them is Brett Weinstein, an evolutionary biologist, who makes no particular claim to having a Christian faith. But Weinstein has served us well by offering his own Seussian verse, in less than 4-minutes, in an effort to stem the tide against unfettered “woke-ness.” I hope you enjoy this.

Let the Seuss loose!

The woke-mob may think that they know what is best and morally correct for the rest of us, but I would rather make those decisions for myself, thank you very much.

By the way, speaking of the Intellectual Dark Web, Jordan Peterson is back!! Here is an interview Jordan has with Jonathan Pageau, an Eastern Orthodox icon-carver. Great, thoughtful conversation!


More QAnon Nonsense: March 4 as Trump’s True Inauguration Day?

Just when you thought folks would be done with this, QAnon roars back with yet another wild prophecy. According to QAnon proponents, Donald Trump will replace Biden and be inaugurated as President. Why? Because of some convoluted reasoning that Ulysses S. Grant was the last legitimately elected President, and that Trump will be Grant’s true successor, on March 4, and will come in and finally clean up Washington, for the glory of God.

What is so bizarre about this whole thing is that various reports say that 1 in 4 evangelical Christiansbelieve the widely debunked QAnon conspiracy theory is completely or mostly accurate.”

1 in 4? Are that many Christians really serious about this??

If you find this unbelievable that so many well-meaning folks in evangelical churches believe this, then just sample some of these following interviews yourself. I warned about this kind of stuff in previous posts (#1 and #2 and #3), acknowledging that every conspiracy theory has at least SOME element of truth to them. But this latest QAnon concoction is off the charts.

Of course, I know how this is going to go down. Dedicated QAnon folks will double-down and say that I am blinded and “liberal” biased because I reference videos done by CNN, which is just the lying “mainstream media.” Such folks would rather believe their Facebook feed, that Facebook’s algorithm engineers have already steered towards them, down the rabbit hole….. as though Facebook’s social media steering mechanism is somehow more trustworthy than CNN.

But they will not stop there. They will either say that the fake March 4 Inauguration prediction was simply a warning before the REAL storm comes at a later, yet undisclosed date; that is, we must simply “trust the plan.” Or they will throw these folks interviewed under the bus! They will say that all of the folks interviewed in the following videos were actually planted there by Antifa, or other elements of the Radical Left, and they really are not true Trump supporters…. another example of “fake news.”

Folks, this just makes Christians look foolish. What a contrast with the early Christians who gave their lives for the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection. People need to let this go and move on. If on the one-in-a-billion chance that something DOES happen like this, then I will surely post an update with a profound acknowledgement of error on my part….. But mark my word, come Friday morning, March 5th, folks will be able to look back on this and say that this was a false prophecy.

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3 NIV)”

ADDENDUM:  If you are still convinced that I am just a hack for CNN, then I would encourage you to consider the following thoughtful analysis by Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying about how the New York Times steers the thinking of many of their readers, on a broad spectrum of topics. Be careful, as you might have to think about what is being said in this video. Weinstein and Heying are center-left liberals, in full disclosure.


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