A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

That You May Grow thereby

Some of you know that I've co-authored two books so far with brother Tim Mitchell another minister (and also my cousin). The original idea was to write multi-purpose books geared toward use in a new-converts class. We broadened the subtitle to make the series a general "fundamentals" course that when all four books are finished will provide a year's worth of topics for classes if 13 week quarters are strictly enforced. If not, the material could last much longer.

The first volume in the series is 158 pages (revised edition is longer). Lessons discuss Natural and Special Revelation, The Bible and world religions, the church and topics like faith, obedience, baptism and repentance. The original edition is in its second printing. A revised and expanded edition is complete, but not yet printed. Until it is in print, anyone who purchases the first book is welcomed to get a free copy of the revised and expanded first lesson. In fact, anyone who would like to look it over can get it here.

Volume two delves into yet more basic truths. There are lessons about the Godhead and nature of mankind. A lesson teaches readers some invaluable tools for productive Bible study, and how to lead others to Christ. Lessons focus on matters of morality, and sanctification.

Volume three is nearing publication readiness. Tim and I are working hard to finish the writing and get the finished manuscript to the publisher (Sain Publishing, Pulaski, TN). We hope you will take an interest in the series and get copies for yourself, or for a class at church. Since I will be devoting most of my time to finishing this third book, I won't be updating this blog for likely two weeks or so. I pray God's blessings on you all. Let me know how I may be of service, and feel free to post comments about chapter one (if you decide to click the link and read it) to this post.

[I'm not trying to be a pushy salesman, but if you'd like to order books call:
Mars Hill Book Store 1-800-321-4587 (mhbook.com)
Gospel Advocate 1-800-251-8446 (gospeladvocate.com)
Or send an email to parousia.1975@yahoo.com.]

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Social Customs and the Sexes (1 Cor 11:2-16)

As a minister, I have been asked difficult questions about 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 many times. As a Christian, I have heard several conflicting explanations of the text. I am not confident that most Christians really understand the passage at all correctly. I have preached what I believe to be the correct interpretation, but until now, never wrote about it. I hope this treatment of the text will be informative and helpful, and most importantly, according to the truth.

Take the time to read 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (hereafter called “our text”). The passage is about the order of authority that originates with God: Christ is subordinate to the Father, men are subordinate to Christ; women are subordinate to men. There is a principle of male leadership and female submission throughout the Bible, and while it is generally true that God did not intend for women to occupy positions of authority over men in any area of human society, there have been, and are certain exceptions that meet with God’s approval (teaching and exercising authority over men in the church is not one of them). We do not have time or space to deal with those now.

The point of our text is that men should be men, and women should be women, respecting all inward and outward manifestations of the same, and doing so in submission to God, knowing that to defy the distinctions between the sexes is not permissible for godly people.

I have learned to break our text down into five steps that follow Paul’s inspired argument. First, he commends the Corinthians for keeping the apostolic traditions (11:2). Next, Paul sets forth the order of authority which is the crux of the passage (11:3). Then, he makes application of the order to the customs of his original audience (i.e. 1st Century Greeks) (11:4-5). After that, Paul offers supporting arguments. He reasons that abandoning one symbol of proper female subordination is equal to abandoning them all (11:6), and that God made his will concerning these matters clear in Creation (“all things are from God”) (11:7-12). Finally, he makes a common sense appeal (11:13-15) before stating the “end of story” conclusion (11:16). Now I want to take a closer look at our text, and offer what I understand to be the correct interpretation (Note: verse 1 belongs with the chapter 10 context, and so will not be dealt with here). Follow along with me in your Bible as we study our text verse by verse.

(11:2) “Tradition.” We have come to use the word with several subtle differences of meaning today. In the Bible, traditions are simply teachings passed on from one to another. The traditions to which Paul refers here are not the traditions of men, but of God. Paul commends the Corinthians for following apostolic (inspired) traditions, because he is about to teach them to follow one (the order of authority) that there must have been problems with at Corinth.

(11:3) The eternal (at least as long as humans function sexually –Matt 22:30) principle that lays out the basic chain of social authority is: God (the Father) first, then Christ the King, then man, then woman (and we can safely infer that all else in creation is after woman –Gen 1:27-28). This is the tradition from God that Christians must pass on from generation to generation until Christ’s return. It is the basic social framework within which children’s minds should be molded. It is always the truth—always the ideal, regardless of human social customs. However, its application differs depending on culture. Next, Paul applies this abiding principle to First Century Corinth.

(11:4-5) First, Paul addresses the issue of men covering their heads while praying or prophesying. Various groups of people that lived then had different views about head-coverings for men in worship. Greek men did not cover their heads in worship. Roman men covered their heads in worship. Some say Jewish men wore a tallith; others suggest that practice did not begin until later centuries. We know that God commanded Jewish priests to conduct temple worship (which included praying) with covered heads (Ex 28:3-4). So we can see that there is no universal principle that forbids a man to worship with covered head. It must be, then, that Paul, speaking to Greeks, was dealing with their custom.

As to the practice of First Century women, the issue is simpler. Married women went veiled in Greek, Roman, and Eastern societies at the time (including Jewish)—a symbol of their subjection to their husbands. Women went without a veil to display their freedom from a man, and thus availability, and so it was common for prostitutes to not only not wear a veil, but cut their hair short, or shave it. Good, respectable unmarried women did not cut their hair short, and good married women did not wear short hair or go unveiled in ancient Greek society. So, this is also in keeping with the view that Paul was dealing with local custom, which in this case would not only have been true in Corinth, but all over the ancient world. We would do well to take note of the fact that it was the married women who went veiled. This gives weight to the ESV’s translation of “gunaikos” as “wife” in verse 3.

So, to summarize what we have seen this far: according to custom, a Greek man dishonored his head to worship with it covered, and a married woman dishonored hers to worship without a covering. For a married woman to do so was to assume a male role, or worse, to communicate sexual availability in the Lord’s assembly, thus denying her husband’s authority, and breaking the eternal rule of the order of authority. Now, we move on to Paul’s supporting arguments.

First (v. 6), Paul draws attention to the essence of what the Corinthian women were doing. The rebellious wives in Corinth didn’t want to look like prostitutes, but their hearts were full of harlotry in rebelling against the rule of their husbands. Second (vv. 7-12), Paul appeals to God’s revealed will in the matter. His argument is that God made his will concerning sex roles clear in Creation (see also 1 Tim 2): the woman was made from and for man, so she should not reject her husband’s authority. Paul argues that this role distinction between the sexes is from God (v. 12), and so, his “therefore” conclusion is that a woman (“wife”) ought to have a head-covering “because of the angels.”

I know of three possible interpretations of the phrase, “because of the angels.” First, since the Greek word translated “angels” may refer to either heaven’s messengers or human messengers (i.e. preachers, teachers and the apostles and their fellows that moved among the churches), it is possible that the “angels” of verse 10 are those (human ones) of the churches. Second, it is possible that the angels of verse 10 are indeed the unseen guardians and servants of the churches (Heb 1:14) and thus should not have to witness abominable rebellion among the saints. “To abandon this justifiable and well-established symbol of subordination would be a shock to the submissive and obedient spirit of the ministering angels… who, though unseen, are always present with you in your places of worship” (…1 Tim 5:21) (McGarvey/Pendleton, p.112). Last, it may be that rather than meaning “for their sake,” the wording means “because of the lesson learned from the angels who abandoned their proper ranks” (Jude 6). Regardless of Paul’s meaning, the application to the Corinthian church would have been the same.

Paul’s third supporting argument (vv. 13-15) is an appeal to “nature.” “Nature” does not here refer to some inborn sense of things, but to the natural thing one would do in that culture (McGuiggan, 1984, p. 150) (see also Eph 2:3). How a man would “naturally” wear his hair in Greek society is not the same as a man would wear it in the 21st Century. Is it universally disgraceful for a man to wear his hair long? Imagine if someone had tried to call Samson feminine! God originated the rules of the Nazirite vow which required a man to grow out his hair (Num 6:5), and God would not have made something dishonorable into a characteristic of a holy vow. It was quite natural for the Greek men to whom Paul was writing to wear long hair. The Spartans, certainly among the most “naturally” masculine men of all time wore long hair, and sensed nothing in “nature” dishonorable about it. Paul’s use of the word refers to what is natural for one to do based on the norms of his day and time. Besides, the length of one’s hair is not even what Paul is talking about in our text.

I am aware of two Koine Greek terms for hair. “Thrix” is the anatomical word (for the length of) one’s hair. It is not used here. “Kome” (lit. “to wear tresses of hair”) is Paul’s word, and refers to ornament more than to length, so style is what is under consideration in our text (McGuiggan, 1984, p. 151). Paul’s point: “Women, wouldn’t you be appalled if a man attempted to worship God made up like a woman? Then why are you trying to look like a man?”

(11:16) Finally, Paul concludes the discussion by stating the bottom line: there is no other practice in the church. The command to the church at Corinth was to conform to the standard. The only practice in the church that is acceptable is for women to look and act like women, and for men to look and act like men.

Brother Howard Winters wrote, “Customs can and do change, but principles do not. And to regulate a custom bearing on a principle neither binds the custom nor changes the principle” (1987, p. 145). What Paul did in our text was regulate the practice of the church at Corinth according to the custom of that day in keeping with the eternal principle that originates with God and does not change. That same principle of “subordination” is in effect today. That principle that says men are to be men, and women, women is still in effect. The custom of our day does not (generally) dictate that a man’s hair be either long or short, and that is true for women also. However, our custom (androgynous in fashion as it unfortunately has become) still has some boundaries as to what hairstyles (and clothing options) are masculine and feminine. Our text teaches us that we cannot transgress these boundaries. There are no head-covering customs in Western Society that carry any of the meaning that they did in First Century Corinth (except among groups like the Mennonites), so though the custom of that day is not bound upon us, the principle still applies. For Christians in Eastern societies that still have such customs for women, Paul’s application of the principle still applies as strongly as ever it has. I hope this treatment of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 has been helpful. Feel free to post your questions and comments.

Friday, February 1, 2008

How often do you read the Bible?

Hello and good day to you! I thought I'd let you who frequent this blog know that there's a question on my church blog that I'd like you to consider answering and commenting on. Just click the above post title (it's linked) and join in the discussion!