Learning in the Pastoral Epistles: Deception, Verbs and Wives in 1 Timothy 2

Paul & Thecla

No debate in evangelicalism has produced as much strife and heat as the debate on the ordination of women.[1] In the broad debate, much has been written concerning the infinitive αὐθεντέω,[2] the conjunction οὐδὲ in relation of "to teach" and "to control/assume authority,"[3] and the context of the Ephesian heresy.[4] What has not been sufficiently explored is Paul's only imperative in the pericope (μανθανέτω: 2:11) in relation to the broader materials in the Pastoral Epistles, in Paul's wider corpus, and even the LXX. This study will present evidence for Paul's inclusion of women as those worthy of being taught in the Pastoral Epistles, the wider Pauline corpus, and Paul's own Bible, the LXX in order to show that μανθανέτω is a contextually positive verb that illustrates Paul's inclusion of women in the learning of correct church doctrine.[5] This evidence, in turn, can best be explained as Paul's corrective to false teaching and vv.12-15 are to be understood in light of the imperative—wives[6] are to learn so that they may be included as the one's who will then be permitted to teach (διδασκαλία). More importantly, the Pastoral Epistles include the largest cluster of the verb; hence, this is an important term and deserves careful analysis.[7] Before that, I want to stress the limited nature of this study: entire dissertations have been written on specific phrases and even words within 1 Timothy 2:9-15, so I cannot possibly cover every angle or nuance within the passage. Secondly, I am assuming several disputable points of debate: I believe Paul is most likely the author of the Pastoral Epistles, and I believe the context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 concerns a household rather than a church service, so this section mostly likely refers to husbands and wives (per Cynthia Westfall of McMaster Divinity College in her book Paul and Gender), and not men and women generally.

1. μανθάνω: A Lexical Survey

Before we can determine the nuances of the verb under question, we must survey the lexical data. Given the abundance of occurrences of the verb in the relevant literature we are in a good place to determine the nuances and nature of the imperative verb as opposed to a hapax legomena (c.f. αὐθεντέω; 1 Tim 2:12). If we are able to determine an appropriate understanding of the verb under exploration, the rest of the passage may indeed fall in line:

·      Friberg 17746: from a basic meaning learn, i.e. of directing one's mind to something and producing an external effect

·      Louw & Nida: 27.12 μανθάνω: to acquire information as the result of instruction, whether in an informal or formal context - 'to learn, to be instructed, to be taught

·      Liddel-Scott: 27160  μανθάνω:-to learn, esp. by inquiry; and in aor. to have learnt, i.e. to understand, know.

·      Danker: 4080  μανθάνω ‘acquire knowledge’, learn – a. through instruction or receipt of information– b. through example or experience

The wide range of sources from these lexicons strongly suggest that the verb is often used with a context of a learner and a teacher, with the additional elements of expanding the cognitive aspect of the learner with the intent on 'understanding.' The purpose being, then, for the human person to grow in understanding of the knowledge she is being given. Knowledge, then, leads to righteous living or a reorientation of the self. Stanley Porter, in his Idioms of the Greek New Testament, states that "the imperative form is normally used to direct someone's action…[and] any permissive sense [of the second and third person singular and plural] is a phenomenon of English translation, not Greek."[8] Paul's use of the singular in 1 Tim 2:11 fits with Porter's helpful description. In summation, the issue of women learning in the Pastoral Epistles can help us discover the expectation of Paul in the church in Ephesus, and determine the character of the prohibition, with implications for the modern debate over the ordination of women to Christian ministry.

2. Μανθάνω in the LXX[9]

In the Greek version of the Old Testament, we have a sufficient supply of the verb μανθάνω to determine the semantic range of 1 Timothy 2:11. In Exodus 2:4, Moses' mother, after putting her baby in the basket, stood "far off" (μακρόθεν) in order "to learn" or "discover" (μαθεῖν) what would happen to Moses. The infinitive here refers to the anticipation of witnessing an indefinite event, waiting to know what would happen to her baby in the tumultuous current of the river. God in Deuteronomy 4:10 orders an assembly to brought before him and he says, "and let them [Israel] all listen to my words, so that they may learn (μάθωσιν) to respect me all of the days that they live upon the land, and also their sons whom they should have taught (διδάξωσιν)." The use of υἱοὺς ("sons") should be taken in a gender-inclusive manner, as all are "sons of God" in Galatians 3:26-29 and Romans 8:14. The purpose of learning is so that the children may be instructed in the right things of God. One expects the living tradition of Israel's stories to be perpetuated by those who were being taught (διδάξωσιν). The language of learning and teaching follows logically, as the ones who learn can then, consequently, teach the others in the ways of the Lord. The gender distinctions of "teaching" and "learning" are not in view in Deuteronomy. Deut 5:1 also speaks of Moses calling "all Israel" (πάντα Ισραηλ) together and telling them that "they will learn" (μαθήσεσθε) the "ordinances of God," which implies subsequent obedience: at least, one would hope. The people of Israel are to "learn to respect the Lord" (μαθης φοβεισθαι κυριον) in Deut 14:23, 17:19, 31:12-13: the conceptual framework of "learning" in these four canonical verses confirms the idea of a person—or group of people—growing to understand a foreign concept, and with this learning comes the expectation of participating with a renewed understanding of said concept. Thus, the people of Israel—without reference to gender—are called to learn and participate in God's commandments. Israel is forbidden "to learn" or "understand" (οὐ μαθήσῃ) the "abominations" of other "nations" (ἐθνῶν) in Deut 18:9—which suggests that Israel is not to participate in the community of heresy and false teaching, which leads to utter destruction.

In 1 Chron 25:8, there is a direct contrast between the "perfected" or "learned one" (τελείων) and the "one learning" (μανθανόντων), offering a distinction between two people who are educated and uneducated, which suggests a necessary imputing of wisdom or experience to the other with the hope of increasing knowledge and therefore ethical praxis. The use of the infinitive μαθεῖν in Ester 4:5 is directly relevant: Ester (who is reported to be a woman!) orders Hathach to go and "to learn" what he can about Mordecai: as it turns out, women can tell men to learn as well![10] Ps 106:35 references Israel "learning" (ἔμαθον) amongst the nations, and living as they do, committing idolatry (v.36). The verb here refers to active participation and cognitive awareness of the people of God by partaking in a great evil, learning what it is to serve mammon over God. "Learning" (μεμαθηκέναι) the "judgments of God's righteousness"(τὰ κρίματα τῆς δικαιοσύνης) is not a reference to subjection, but of a person "worshipping God" (ἐξομολογήσομαί) when he or she grows to "learn" what God commands and desires (Ps 119:7, 71, 73). "Learning" in Ps 119 is always in reference to active participation, of knowing and praising God rightly. Prov 17:16, in reference to fools, speaks of them "learning to fall into evil" (μαθειν). Evil in this verse is a deadly force, and the people are excluded from "learning" the mind of God, excluded from wisdom. The LXX rendering of Prov 22:25 speaks of avoiding the angry ones (v.24), and not "learning" (μάθῃς) the lifestyle of the wicked. In each use, the gender of the person is not in view, and all people are encouraged to pursue God, or not encouraged if they are pursuing evil!

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The beginning of Isaiah 1:17 is a prophetic injunction "to learn" (μάθετε) "to do what is good" (καλὸν ποιεῖν). In the midst of Isaiah's prophetic discourse on the "days to come" (2:2), the people of Israel will "not learn to wage war" (2:4: μὴ μάθωσιν ἔτι πολεμεῖν). The eschatological prophecy is focused on the concept of utter peace as a future reality of God's kingdom, and this requires Israel to forsake the wages of death and war. In the midst of the Assyrian invasion, Israel is "not learning" (μὴ μαθεῖν) the Law, and many have been taken away already (8:15). Isaiah 26:9-10 includes two dual uses of the verb in relation to "righteousness" (v.9: δικαιοσύνην μάθετε; v.10: μὴ μάθῃ δικαιοσύνην), and the first pairing includes "learning righteousness," and the "wicked ones not learning righteousness." In this pairing, the righteous ones are consciously aware of God's judgments, but the wicked ones have not learned righteousness, and "do not see the glory of the Lord." The prophet speaks in Isaiah 28:19 for the recipients to "learn to understand!" (μάθετε ἀκούειν). The infinitive "to hear" or "to understanding" complements the imperative "learn," and the interplay between the concepts of "understanding" and "learning" suggest a continuity between these cognates: "learn so that you will understand" or "comprehend." Isaiah 29:24 contains two uses of the future verb "will learn" (μαθήσονται), though both are used in different ways. First, the "grumbling ones will learn to obey"  (ὑπακούειν) and the "murmuring ones will learn to speak peace" (μαθήσονται λαλεῖν εἰρήνην).[11]

Isaiah 47:12 is focused upon the humiliation of Babylon. In mocking the great city, Isaiah speaks about "sorcery, which you learned from youth" (ἐμάνθανες). Far from being a positive force, Isaiah sees this "learning" as a great and humiliating evil, a force that corrupts and enslaves. Similarly in Jer 9:5 the prophet cries out about "no one is speaking the truth" (ἀλήθειαν οὐ μὴ λαλήσωσιν) and as a result the people "have taught their tongues to speak lies" (μεμάθηκεν ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτῶν λαλεῖν ψευδῆ). The 'teaching' of the self to engage in falsehoods reveals a mind clouded by the Spirit of lies, and not the Spirit of God, who demands that the people "not learn" (μὴ μανθάνετε) the "ways of the nations." The imperative here follows Stanley Porter's description: this is not a Divine permissive, but a Divine command for Israel to remain separate from the nations. In a prophetic proclamation, God speaks of having mercy if the people "learn" the ways of His people (μαθόντες μάθωσιν τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ λαοῦ μου). Jer 13:23 speaks of a person changing their ways, even those who have been taught to do evil (μεμαθηκότες). Both uses of μανθάνω in Ezekiel 19:3 and 19:6 refer to a lion "learning" to catch his victims. The final usage in the LXX centers on Micah 4:3 where the prophet asserts "no longer will they learn to wage war" (καὶ οὐκέτι μὴ μάθωσιν πολεμεῖν). Violence is a pastime that must be unlearned, especially as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount, which suggests non-violence is a major hermeneutical continuum in Scripture.[12]

In summation, "learning" is a deeply malleable concept in the Greek Old Testament. Sometimes the verb under consideration is paired with "teach" (Deut 4:10) and "speaking" (perhaps Ps 119; Isaiah 29:24; Jer 9:5). In almost every instance the verb is used in a pietistic context: "learning" is a causal action that has an intended result. In the instances where it is not, it refers to a lion hunting, or a negative injunction for a person to not "learn" something evil (i.e. a prohibition of negative behavior), likely with the knowledge that the person will then fall into sin. In no explicit instance is a woman prohibited from learning something positive or ethically necessary, and all of Israel is enjoined to "learn" and pursue holiness in light of God's commands. Because of this, the Old Testament, like the New Testament, views women as agents of genuine cognitive virtue, capable of learning and freely acting in response to God's commands, with no condemnation of their gender or prohibition of their ability to teach and influence others in the ways of godliness.[13]

3. Μανθάνω in Second Temple Judaism

2 Maccabees 7:2 centers on the brutal torture and eventual butchering of Jewish martyrs. One of the brothers cries out: "what do you all expect to learn (μανθάνειν) by questioning us? For we are prepared to die instead of transgressing the laws of the fathers!" The author's use of the infinitive here is rhetorical, suggesting that the king now knew exactly what the Jewish men were prepared to endure. Similarly in 4 Macc 1:17 the author writes "This, in turn, is discipline by the law, by which we learn (μανθάνομεν) divine matters in a holy manner and human affairs to our advantage." Contextually the use of the verb with παιδεία ("discipline, education") strongly suggests that this learning has a practical outcome: the ignorant or the unlearned or the child even has the moral necessity to grow in knowledge in relation to "divine matters." Finally, perhaps the most relevant passage in relation to 1 Tim 2:11 is Sirach 18:19:

πρὶν ἢ λαλῆσαι μάνθανε καὶ πρὸ ἀρρωστίας θεραπεύου

"Before you speak, you must learn and before you become ill, take care of yourself."

Sirach 18:19 appears axiomatic for any understanding of 1 Tim 2:11, given the close proximity of composition and the nature of 'learning' that appears consistent with the overall thrust of the LXX. The author of Sirach appears to be addressing a situation that has strong parallels, especially since Sirach is a work all about ethical conduct and was written some time before the Pastoral Epistles, an issue that many modern commentators on the Pastoral Epistles have missed.[14] The parallels between these two verses will be explored below in some detail.

Finally, a major purveyor of this term is Philo of Alexandria, who appears to use the verbal form over 140 times, according to Bibleworks.[15] Since an entire survey of Philo would require multiple dissertations, I am forced to limit myself to some key examples. In Legum allegoriarum 1:94 we have Philo writing, "just as the perfect grammarian or perfect musician has need of no instruction in the matters which belong to his art, but the man whose theories on such subjects are imperfect stands in need of certain rules, as it were, which contain in themselves commands and prohibitions, and he who is only learning the art requires instruction [i.e. "teaching"]" (τῷ δὲ ἄρτι μανθάνοντι διδασκαλίας). The person who is exercising a gift of "teaching" is excluded from the realm of learning, by implication of their being a teacher.[16] The use of μανθάνον in Legum allegoriarum 3:135 concerns the gifting of "knowledge" and how a person endures hardships: Philo writes, "Also, what is imperfect is inferior to that which is perfect (τοῦ τελείου), and that which learns (τὸ μανθάνον) anything to that which has knowledge spontaneously and naturally." Perfection in relation to knowledge is something that must be learned. In De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini 1:7 we have a dual use of "learning," which is seen in terms of "perfection" (ἐτελειώθησαν), the full maturation of an individual's mind: "As many, therefore, as through instruction and learning (μαθήσει καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ)..." and this is followed by Philo's use of the language of "comprehension" (ἀκοῆς) and in regards to Moses' people who have [or 'are'] "learned/ing" (μανθανόντων) guidance. Similarly to the stories in the Old Testament, the entire group of people are in the process of gaining knowledge and experience. The necessity of learning in Quod deterius potiori insidiari 1:12 centers on the stability of the person as the recipient of knowledge: "for the opinions of those who have only lately begun to learn (τῶν ἄρτι μανθάνειν) are unstable and without any firm foundation." This correlates nicely with Sirach's ethical admonition to "learn" before one speaks,[17] revealing a potential Jewish axiomatic tradition.[18] Having briefly surveyed the wide swath of ancient literature, we are now in a place to determine how Paul uses this verb.[19]

4. Paul's use of Μανθάνω outside of the Pastoral Epistles

Rom 16:17 speaks of Paul's urging the church to follow the "teaching" (διδαχὴν) that they previously "learned" (ἐμάθετε). While the context is not as dire at the heretical situation in 1 Timothy one can see a potential allusion to the Protevangelium in Gen 3:16 in Rom 16:20 and 1 Tim 2:15, if one adopts the "Childbirth" reading on v.15 (which I do).[20] Second, the use of the verb "fully deceived" (ἐξαπατῶσι; Rom 16:18) directly lines up with the deception of Eve in 1 Tim 2:14 and Adam in Rom 7:11. If you want to know more on Eve and 1 Timothy, head over to Allison Quient's paper presentation later! So Rom 16:17-20 suggests a similar heretical situation to that of the Pastoral Epistles, and given the close proximity to the numerous women mentioned earlier in chapter 16 (Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, passim), it is not difficult to imagine that they would be included in the "learning" and participation of important church "teachings," especially as recipients of Romans. Paul uses the subjunctive to admonish the Corinthians to "learn" (μάθητε) not to go beyond the Scriptures in 1 Cor 4:6, suggesting a coordinate meaning with the Prophets in the Old Testament (see above: Deut 18:9). Likewise, in 14:31[21] the entire church is told that prophecy is for the mutual benefit of all people, "so that all would learn" (ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν).[22] The use of the verb here refers to teleological understanding by the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives forth the "teaching" (διδαχὴν: v.26) that "each" has received. 

Paul's remaining five uses of the verb are used in a wide array of contexts. The first use of the infinitive (μαθεῖν) in Gal 3:2 is clearly sarcastic, referring to Paul's interrogation of the Galatian church into telling him about the source of their knowledge of Christ. The aorist in Eph 4:20 (ἐμάθετε) is clarified as "hearing" (ἠκούσατε: v.21) which most probably refers to orthopraxic understanding and cognitive participation. Equally, the dual use in Phil 4:9 (ἐμάθετε) and 4:11 (ἔμαθον) are in a context of "obtaining and understanding" (παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε)[23] what is good and righteous (4:8). As we have seen, "understanding" is often used by Paul to clarify his intent: this is not a mere acquisition of knowledge, but an entire lifestyle[24] oriented towards God and holiness.[25] Paul's final use is found in Col 1:7, where he addresses the church concerning what they "learned" (ἐμάθετε) from a fellow co-worker of Paul. As has been seen above, Paul uses "understanding" (ἠκούσατε) in v.6 to preempt what he means by "learning" in v.7: this suggests a deep emotional, lexical and intellectual reservoir in Paul's mind, which we will now explore in the Pastoral Epistles. Learning of the things of God always leads to active participation in God's church. Learning is not static.

5a. Compare & Contrast, Learning & Teaching: The Necessity of 1 Tim 1:20

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In considering the context of the ancient heresy in Ephesus, we know that the main perpetrators of this were most likely two men named in 1 Tim 1:20: Hymenaeus and Alexander. These two men (although perhaps there were more)[26] "have been fully handed over" (παρέδωκα) to Satan: a fate born out of "blasphemy" (βλασφημεῖν).[27] Their rather harsh expulsion from the church greatly contrasts with Paul's imperatival address to women in 2:11, suggesting deference to the deceived versus the deceivers; the victims versus the charlatans. The purpose clause in 1:20 also confirms the disciplinary nature of their exclusion, and elucidates a potential connection to the "teaching," as it uses the subjunctive παιδευθῶσι ("to provide instruction, with the intent of forming proper habits of behavior - 'to teach, to instruct, to train, teaching, instruction.'")[28] as per Louw-Nida and other Lexicons.[29] This forms a symmetrical relationship between a prohibition or expulsion and the resultant learning of the person. Scholarly attempts to overly-reconstruct or downplay the role of women in leading the heresy are unnecessary when we consider that Paul has likely already ousted his two main opponents, and is now dealing with the aftermath: the wives of Ephesus—whom he has not kicked out of the church or handed over to Satan, by the way. That's slightly important. You don't see much on that. Thus, we are now in a place to determine the nature of the "learning" in the Pastoral Epistles with new focus.

5b. Learning in the Pastoral Epistles: Deception and the Solution

In 1 Tim 5:4, we have another imperative: μανθανέτωσαν πρῶτον, and this time it is used in reference to the authority of a widowed mother over her children. The children must "learn first" what it means to be respectable in God's household. Similarly, in 5:13, we have a negative view of younger widows "learning idleness" (μανθάνουσιν ἀργαὶ) and other traits that are not respectable in the household—a use that is confirmed by our survey of the LXX. 2 Tim 3:7 seems to describe the women who are "always learning" or being "taught" by the false teachers, although this seems somewhat unclear[30] and 3:14 reminds Timothy to remain conscious of what he has previously "learned" (ἔμαθες) and who he obtained (λαβὼν) it from: perhaps Paul, or perhaps Timothy's grandmother Lois and mother Eunice in 2 Tim 1:5. This assumes that learned women were teaching with authority in households: after all, there is no one more authoritative than one's mother and especially one's grandmother, as I will testify.[31] Finally, Titus 3:14 is similar to the Old Testament injunctions for people to "learn" (μανθανέτωσαν) "good works," suggesting perhaps an economic sphere where poverty is met and charity is learned.

Therefore, we arrive at 1 Tim 2:11. If we begin with previous material, the axiomatic exhortation in Sirach 18:19 becomes quite relevant here. The purpose of the wives learning before they speak is confirmed by Paul's use of the prepositional phrase ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ ("in quietness") with "all obedience." Cynthia Westfall has provided us with a major hermeneutical clue in her book Paul and Gender. She writes: "a command to submit does not constitute a reversed mandate for the other to subjugate."[32] Paul's command for the women to learn directly follows the path set by Sirach 18:19: before the women are to speak and teach, they are to learn in quietness. Teaching is not a masculine virtue, as the entire body has the potential for the gift of teaching in Rom 12:1-8,[33] especially as it relates to being "wise" (σωφρονεῖν: Rom 12:3; 1 Tim 2:9, 15; 3:2). Wisdom and a teaching ability require a desire to learn the things of God, given to us by God. In essence, Paul's injunction here is entirely in line with the language of the gifts of God elsewhere in his discourses on the Spirit (1 Cor 12; Rom 12; Eph 4). The positive injunction helps clarify the nature of the Creation narrative in 1 Tim 2:13-14 as a historical situation where a deceived person acted in a manner that had incredibly destructive consequences.

In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, complementarian William Mounce—who I will be using as representative—writes the following:

"the text [1 Tim 2:11] does not say that women should learn so that they can teach. Spencer asserts, 'if anyone is taught, eventually they will teach,' but this contradicts chap. 3, which sees authoritative instruction…as the prerogatives of the elders." He cites Deuteronomy 31:12, cites Craig Keener concerning the "learning leading to obedience" and concludes, "the authoritative act of teaching, the proclamation of the gospel truth and the refutation of error, is the responsibility not of any person who has learned but of the leadership (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2)."[34]

There is many critical responses one could make this line of argumentation,[35] but Mounce's favorable citation of Douglas Moo deserves the most attention. He writes, citing Moo: "All Jewish men were encouraged to study the law: did they all become rabbis?"[36] This is asking the wrong question: an injunction for all people to learn and to grow, but an injunction that simultaneously restricts a group of people from teaching because of their gender is absent in the LXX, and in the citation that Mounce cites. Ester tells a man to go and learn in Ester 4:5, and Deut 4:10 uses the verb in relation to people teaching their children, and even speaking (Is 29:24). One would expect more precision from the biblical writers on this point, if Mounce were correct: for instance, we might expect Paul or Moses or the Prophets to say, "everyone should learn in quietness, but only men are to learn with intent to teach." Scripture never says such things. Finally, Mounce's assertion about male leadership in 1 Tim 3:2 as negating the inference of "learning so that they may teach" is unsubstantiated.[37] An indefinite pronoun is different from a masculine pronoun.[38] The indefinite pronoun τις ("anyone, whoever;" 1 Tim 3:2) is unexplained by Mounce, and he assumes that an elder is to be a man. The lack of a masculine pronoun remains, and Mounce offers no reason for us to assume his interpretation with him. Thus, the best explanation of the women being told to learn in 1 Tim 2:11 is so that they will become educated, and will not fall into deception like Eve (1 Tim 2:13-14).[39] Learning has a causal outcome in any instance, and the force of "learning" before "speaking" or "teaching" is a basic axiomatic component of human life. Paul's command for the women to learn removes their present deception, and emphasizes their "mental soundness" (σωφροσύνης: v.15) in opposition to their (Eve's) deception.[40] The present tense of ἐπιτρέπω ("I am not permitting") in v.12 fits well with the imperative μανθανέτω in v.11. Rather than v.12 restricting the meaning of v.11, ἐπιτρέπω is functioning as a present reality of the deceived women—hence the present tense: while they learn, they are not permitted to be a controlling authoritarian with their husbands.[41]

Since Alexander and Hymenaeus were excluded from the church, and their return is conditioned on their own "instruction," one can safely assume that if Alexander and Hymenaeus repent and return with humbleness and a sound mind that they would perhaps be admitted back into the church, and in time, given positions of teaching power. Perhaps. However, if the wives learn humbly and participate in the attributes of faithfulness, love, and holiness with the soundness of mind that should characterize all people, they will be saved and, perhaps, find themselves among the "faithful one's who are able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2: διδακτικόν). Indeed, in 2 Tim 2:2—a text Mounce cited earlier as excluding women from eldership—perhaps some of the women were already at work there, teaching with learned authority (πιστοῖς ἀνθρώποις οἵτινες ἱκανοὶ ἔσονται καὶ ἑτέρους διδάξαι). The NRSV captures the Greek well: "and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people [not exclusively men] who will be able to teach others as well." Given that Paul is quite capable of using specific gendered terms to refer to men (as he does in 1 Tim 2:8, for instance), one is forced to ask why he uses a more generic anthropological term in 2 Tim 2:2. It seems best to conclude that Paul does not have men exclusively in mind as teachers in every capacity, and that women must be included in this sphere of teaching as a result of their learning. Thus, the best reason for their "learning" is for their positive influence in the community, whether through teaching or preaching, and not their subservience or ontological exclusion from exercising the gifts God has given them. Discipleship in a community of mutual deference and love is principal to Paul's ethics, and the Pastoral Epistles are no exception to this principle.

6. Conclusion

In summation, I offer three preliminary observations that, I hope, will help us solve this debate in evangelicalism. First, in demanding that the wives learn in 2:11, Paul is affirming their cognitive capacity to receive Christian tradition, as he did with Timothy and Eunice and Lois. We see Paul's same assumption of virtue in 1 Cor 7. In that entire chapter, neither husband nor wife has preeminence over the other nor are they to "deprive one another" sexually, and we see mutual submission being the guiding principle in Ephesians 5:21 for what follows there. By stating these things, Paul is affirming both the sexual agency of wives, and the necessity of women as agents of virtue. Thus, Paul is consistent in how he treats husbands and wives. Second, Paul's treatment of men and women regarding deception reveals that neither gender carries with it an ontology that renders them more easily deceived: indeed Paul tells the entire church in Corinth to not be deceived (1 Cor 3:18; c.f. 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Thess 2:3).

Deception is an unfortunate human trait, but fortunately it does not affect one gender more than the other—according to Paul. Third and finally, Paul assumes the participatory necessity of women in the body of Christ. Whether a Junia, a Phoebe, a Deborah, a Lydia, a Euodia, or the unnamed woman in the Gospels who anointed Jesus, God has anointed gifted women with the distinct capacity to learn, to grow, to mature, and to teach with authority. Indeed, I would not be here if I had not studied under learned women. Our greatest challenge in evangelicalism is to provide places where the gifts of God manifest themselves in our sisters, for the glory of all people for the purpose of teaching and instructing us all in righteousness. Places where they can learn, and teach, and participate fully in Christ's mission of reconciliation.

We evangelicals cannot say to women, we have no need of you, because Paul certainly didn't.

NQ

A form of this article was read at the Canadian-American Theological Association conference in New York, 2017. If you notice certain colloquialisms or misspellings, please forgive them.

[1] For a survey of the relevant literature see Jamin Hübner, "A New Case for Female Elders: A Reformed-Evangelical Approach" (Th.D. dtss., The University of South Africa, 2013), 22-105.

[2] C.f. Westfall, Paul and Gender, 290-293 and her "The Meaning of αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 10 (2014): 138-173; Jamin Hübner, "Revisiting αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12: What do the Extant Data Really Show?" Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 5.1 (2015), 41-71; Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 361-397.

[3] Payne, Man and Woman, 337-361; Andreas Köstenberger, "A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12," in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Third edition: ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner: Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 117-162.

[4] S.M. Baugh, "A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century," in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Third edition: ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner: Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 25-64.

[5] The similar use of the verb in 1 Cor 14:34-35 may be set aside for the purposes of this paper, given it's textual instability. Payne, Man and Woman, 217-267 and "Vaticanus Distigme-obelos Symbols Marking Added Text, Including 1 Corinthians 14.34-35," New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 604-625—my thanks to Dr. Payne for sending me his important article. See also Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 699-709 and Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 245-249.

[6] For the argument that Paul is addressing a husband and wife relationship, see Westfall. It can be argued that the majority of Paul's uses of γυνή refer to a husband/wife relationship (1 Cor 7:1-40; 1 Cor 5:1; 9:5; 14:34-35, if original, which I doubt; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19) or to a woman in a generic fashion (Gal 4:4; perhaps 1 Cor 11:2-16). It seems more likely that Paul is being specific rather than exclusive in 1 Tim 2:9-15, but one cannot be dogmatic on this point.

[7] The noun μαθητής does not occur in the Pastoral Epistles, and so it will be excluded from our study. The noun also does not seem to occur in the LXX either, although there is a wealth of uses in the Synoptic Gospels.

[8] Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 1994), 53, 55.

[9] All translations of the LXX are my own unless noted otherwise.

[10] One wonders if this one example is decisive in determining the 'gender' of certain prohibitions or admonitions in Scripture. Was Hathach forgoing his 'male headship' in obeying Ester? Was Ester subverting Hathach's 'male headship' by ordering him to do something?

[11] Similarly, Isaiah 32:4 uses the exact same phrase: μαθήσονται λαλεῖν εἰρήνην.

[12] C.f. Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: Harper One, 1996), 317-347.

[13] One is forced to ask, if Paul believed that women were more easily deceived than men, then why women were included in these injunctions throughout the Old Testament. A more easily deceived person, if such a person exists in an ontological sense at all, requires an entire different code of ethics, and we find no such code in Holy Scripture.

[14] In order: Raymond F. Collins, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 68-70; George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 139-140; Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 199. The others include Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 1 (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 226; Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 212-216; Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 47; Aida Besançon Spencer, 1 Timothy (Eugene: Cascade, 2013), 58-59; I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (London: T&T Clark, 1999), 452-454. Similarly, the major complementarian works noted above (edited by Köstenberger and Schreiner) and the egalitarian works (Payne, Keener) do not mention or cite this text.

[15] Given the complexities of Philo's Greek, I happily concede that I am indebted to Yonge's translation, even if I correct him or continue to be mystified by his translation.

[16] Similarly in Legum allegoriarum 3:122, Philo continues: "no doubt, a man who said this might speak clearly and distinctly, but he would not be speaking truly, but by such assertions he would be implanting wickedness in language. But when he joins both distinctness and truth, then he makes his language profitable to him who is seeking [i.e. learning: μανθάνοντι] information…" The fundamental nature of this argument is bound up with the assumption that the pursuit of the logos (τὸν λόγον) is to be desired and that it is attainable.

[17] The Reverend Graham Ware pointed this out to me in an earlier draft of this work, so I credit him here with this insight. De posteritate Caini 1:131, 138, 140, 150; Quis rerum divinarum heres sit 1:102; 121; De congressu eruditionis gratia 1:69-70, 122, 126.

[18] Finally, De posteritate Caini 1:140 speaks of a woman being a potential teacher, even serving her student: " For "she made haste," he says, "and took down the pitcher on her arm." Her alacrity to serve the man was displayed by her making haste, and such alacrity is seated in the mind, beyond which envy is cast away. But by the expression, "taking down the pitcher on her arm," we see intimated the prompt and eager attention [lit. "The one learning by the teacher:" τὸν μανθάνοντα τοῦ διδάσκοντος] of the teacher to the pupil." This text may reveal Philo's ease with women (as a human being or as a typological referent) exercising some sort of "teaching" (διδάσκω) role, although this is not entirely clear. Judith Gundry-Volf has shown that Philo exhibits what is clearly the ancient patriarchal standard. C.f. Judith Gundry-Volf, "Paul on Women and Gender: A Comparison with Early Jewish Views," in The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul's Conversion on his Life, Thought, and Ministry (ed. Richard N. Longenecker: Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1997), 184-212, 195-200.

[19] The Synoptic Gospels include four uses of this verb, and all of them are in the imperative form. In Matt 9:13, after Jesus has characteristically eaten with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees challenge him on his ethical conduct. He responds with the imperative μάθετε,[19] which illustrates a demand (not a permission) to go inform themselves about God's desire for mercy and not sacrifice. Similarly, in Matt 11:29, in Christ's prayer to the Father includes the use of the imperative μάθετε in reference to the "taking" of Christ's yoke upon themselves: this is something that the cities must learn from Jesus. The nuances of this imperative likely refer to an offering of rest as well as a command for them to respond and take what is freely offered to them. It also may indicate Jesus' identification of himself with Torah.[19] In the apocalyptic discourse of Mark 13:28 (par. Matt 24:32), Jesus commands his listeners to "learn from the parable of the fig tree" (Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν), reinforcing the idea of Isa 1:17, where Israel is commanded to "learn to do good!" The two uses of the verb in the Gospel of John refer first to instruction by God (6:45a) by his prophets and the subsequent learning (μαθὼν) that results in a person "coming to Jesus" (6:45b).[19] Similarly, the Jewish people remark with amazement at Jesus' learnedness (μεμαθηκώς) and teaching ability (7:15). The Book of Acts records a saying of a centurion who observes that he rescued Paul on the basis of "learning" (μαθὼν) of his Greco-Roman citizenry. Each of the Gospel uses of this verb refers to a person obtaining revelation or information they previously lacked, and in correlation to this is the notion of "understanding." In one of the most important Christological texts in the New Testament, Jesus is said to have "learned" (ἔμαθεν) "obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5:8). The Eternal Son experienced the depths of the human experience, defined subsequently as "suffering"—a previously unknown state or condition.

[20] C.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 417-442.

[21] As mentioned above, 14:34-35 has been tabled due to its textual indeterminism.

[22] I believe the use of ἵνα confirms the purpose of the admonition: so that all would be able to grasp, comprehend, and subsequently participate.

[23] The full force of the verbs should be felt: the recipients are not passive about what they received, but they accepted it, lived it out, and are currently living it as Paul writes to them. Thus, they are active agents, active recipients of the gift of Christ.

[24] Or as Paul calls it in 4:11, "self-sufficiency:" αὐτάρκης.

[25] The use of "thinking" in Philippians confirms this: c.f. the consistent use of φρονέω: 1:7, 2:2, 5; 3:15, 4:2, 10. I am indebted to Dr. Love Sechrest at Fuller Theological Seminary for pointing this out to me.

[26] The continued presence of heresy in the Pastoral Epistles may attest to this, but it is an unknown. Perhaps Paul has to deal with the lingering effects of heresy as well as the victims of the heretical teaching.

[27] The large cluster of this word group in the Pastoral Epistles strongly confirms the lingering impact made by these two men (c.f. 1 Tim 6:1, which uses "teaching;" Titus 2:5; 3:2.

[28] While one can safely say that being handed over to Satan is indeed a harsh act, the positive injunction that they learn mitigates the harshness.

[29] Johannes E. Louw and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2 vols. 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies), 1989. BibleWorks, v.10. See Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick W. Danker. 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). BibleWorks. v.10.

[30] Given Paul's positive emphasis on women learning elsewhere, one is forced to ask if there is a contextual reason for this displacement, or if the verb refers to the false teachers. Also, the reference to two named men as example of dissent against Moses in v.8 may suggest that the referent is the deceptive men, not the deceived women. Perhaps it refers to both the deceived and the deceivers (3:13: πλανῶντες καὶ πλανώμενοι). However, this is a subsidiary point and I raise it only as such.

[31] The active emphasis of the verb stresses something Timothy "obtained" from his grandmother and mother, that is, "genuine faithfulness" (ἀνυποκρίτου πίστεως).

[32] Westfall, Paul and Gender, 76.

[33] Rom 12:7 uses διδάσκων in reference to a person (or people) who have been given the gift—gender is not mentioned as a prerequisite of a person's call to teach or preach. See Westfall's incisive analysis in Paul and Gender, 208-219.

[34] William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 118.

[35] First, the issue of "obedience" is irrelevant, as v.11 makes clear that the women are to learn in a quiet spirit, but this does not tell us what or why they are to learn. Mounce has not asked the correct question at this point. Spencer, while she may or may not be correct, offers a reasonable inference, while Mounce offers a negation that still leaves the question unanswered. What and why are the women to learn? Second, Mounce's interpretation of this verse is fundamentally unpersuasive regarding apologetics, theological discourse, teaching (c.f. Rom 12 above) and the gifts of the Spirit. In writing that the proclamation of the gospel is for men, one is forced to ask if Paul should have removed the women entirely from the equation as Apostles and Deacons (Rom 16), and fellow co-workers (Phil 4:2-3), and if Jesus made an error in appearing to women who "announced" (ἀπαγγέλλω) the good news of Christ's resurrection (Luke 24:10). One is also forced to wonder, based on Mounce's interpretation, if there is a place for women in any aspect of church life or academia.

[36] Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, 118.

[37] One is also forced to ask if this list if intended to be an eternal case for us, given that women—perspectivally at that time—were unable to be elders because of their lack of learning. Thus, the questions are not answered and we are left wondering if the presupposition of male headship is still in play.

[38] See Payne, Man and Woman, 445-449.

[39] Paul's imperative of v.11 demands that any eternal prohibition of women exercising what they are told to learn be immediately suspect; hence, he cannot be logically consistent in demanding that the women actively exercise their cognitive virtue in learning proper church doctrine and then eternal prohibit them from the implications of their doing so.

[40] Paul's application of this noun to himself in Acts 26:25 removes the possibility that women were mentally deficient, unless one is will to place Paul himself in such a category.

[41] While I am not entirely sold on the translation "assuming authority over" (c.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 361-399), the negative connotations of the word αὐθεντέω are to be taken with the utmost seriousness. For instance, why would Paul prohibit a positive exercise of learned teaching? It seems quite clear that one only prohibits a person from doing something if that person believes it to be a negative event. Hence, the issue of "controlling" a husband seems more preferable as a contextual gloss, but the matter is difficult to settle—but the point is clear: control over another person is antithetical to the Gospel, and that is what Paul appears to be prohibiting.

The "Headship" of the Apocalyptic Son: Exploring Paul's use of κεφαλή in Col 2:8-23

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"It is widely understood by linguists, lexicographers, and philosophers that words do not have one and only one meaning; they have several meanings, some of them quite distinct. Words have a variety of denotations (things they represent) as well as connotations (implied or associated meanings)."[1] This is demonstrably true given the vast ocean of literature surrounding the Greek word κεφαλή, especially as it relates to the evangelical debate about women's ordination. I will argue that Paul's primary emphasis in his use of the term κεφαλή is best understood in terms of "source" or "originating power." In order to illustrate this point, I will survey Paul's "prepositional" Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 as an interpretive lynchpin for the rest of the passage, as it is directly related to Paul's discourse in 2:8-23. Then, once this has all been established, I will build upon this foundation by exploring Paul's use of the noun κεφαλή within Col 2:8-23.[2]

1. Paul's Prepositional Christology: A Brief Analysis of Col 1:13-20

Col 1:15-20 is considered the highlight of Paul's epistle, especially as it relates to any analysis of Paul's prepositional Christology. Chief among my analysis is Paul's use of the preposition ἐν[3] ("in, on, among")[4] throughout Colossians 1:13-20. Paul's use of the preposition often corresponds to a spatial or participatory element: brothers and sisters are ἐν Χριστῷ (1:2), that is, within the sphere or locale of Christ, who represents a positional nexus in a way similar to those who live within a city (c.f. ἐν Κολοσσαῖς 1:2a). Similar to this is Christ being described as the 'object' of faith (ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: 1:4), where it is the realm of Christ that is emphasized.[5] However, in 1:14 we have a potential shift of usage (ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν), where the preposition does not emphasize the locality of Christ, but the activity of God in Christ. The verb ἔχομεν[6] (1:14) speaks of something achieved or gained in terms of active agency, as God is the one who "liberates"[7] (1:13a) us from bondage and transfers us into Christ's Kingdom.

This does not exclude the locative nature of Christ, but liberation is enacted by the action of God in Christ, so there is potentially a dual meaning at play in Paul's rhetoric here.[8] Redemption, whether from Egypt or Rome is a God-in-Christ act. As Porter has already noted, "temporal location can and often does imply the idea of accompaniment, control, agency, cause and even means (price)."[9]

Crucial to a notion of Christ's self-agency is how one understands the preposition ἐν in 1.16; whatever conclusions one derives from this verse will have an impact on one's exegetical conceptualization of how Paul uses κεφαλή in 2:10 and 2:19. The text reads as follows: First, I will survey Paul's "prepositional" Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 as an interpretive lynchpin for the rest of the passage, as it is directly related to Paul's discourse in 2:8-23. Then, once this has all been established, I will build upon this foundation by exploring Paul's use of the term κεφαλή within Col 2:8-23

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι[10]· τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται·

"For by him all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, seen and unseen, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or sovereignties: all things have been created through him and for him" (AT).

Paul uses the preposition ἐν twice in this verse, with one clear case of it being used in a spatial manner, i.e. "in" or "among the heavens" (ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς) and "over" (ἐπὶ) the "earth." That much is clear. However, whether ἐν αὐτῷ is exclusively instrumental or locative is debated. The reticence of the instrumentality argument concerns Paul's concluding use of διά, which could be seen as redundant,[11] and for some the "locative…is preferable."[12] Two points may be said in response to this. First, in the dominant usage of Paul's "in Christ" language, the Son is seen as the direct object of the person's faith/fullness (c.f. 1:2 and elsewhere);[13] however, in 1:16a, there is no such referent. Christ is πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως (1:15b), the "firstborn." God is not the one who is active; rather it is Christ in 1:15b, suggesting a continual agency on the part of Christ, and cannot be limited to locality—without the action of the preexistent Son, creation is not created (δι᾽ αὐτοῦ: 1:16b). Agency is required for creation, a point that is bookended in 1:16b. Robert Wilson, following Peake, concurs: "it is probably safest to say that the act of creation depended causally on the Son."[14]

Thus, it seems best to see Christ as the Son who "creates" whatever is in heaven and on the earth: this would include thrones, dominions, rulers, and sovereignties—human and demonic.[15] Christ—as King, Creator, and Lord[16]—is best seen in 1:16 as a principal actor on the stage of creation, and this includes his role in creating the Powers and his own locative presence as being directly involved in God's plan. Christ, therefore, is the locative agent by which the Powers come into being as "created" beings.[17] The question now turns to the relationship between Christ, the Powers and the Church in 2:8-23 and how we are to interpret Paul's language of "headship."

2a. Lexical Perspectives on Kephalē

Despite the fact that a majority of the evangelical gender debate has centered on what has been called the "battle of the lexicons,"[18] one can quickly notice that all of the major English lexicons offer the primary gloss in terms of physiology and not primarily on authority relationships. For instance:

BDAG 3675:

head – a. as anatomical term Mt 5:36; 10:30; 27:39; Mk 6:24f, 27f; Lk 7:38; J 13:9; Ac 21:24; Ro 12:20; 1 Cor 11:4f; 12:21; Rv 1:14 and oft. in Rv. – b. in transf. sense of a, as architectural extremity Mt 21:42 and par. – c. in transf. sense of a, as directing agent within a ranking system 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 1:22; 5:23; Col 1:18. – d. in ref. to political significance Ac 16:12 v.l. 

Friberg 15975:

κεφαλή, ῆς, ἡ head; (1) literally, of a human or animal head (MT 6.17); (2) figuratively; (a) metaphorically, of Christ as the head of which the church is the body (EP 1.22); (b) of persons, designating first or superior rank[19] head (1C 11.3); (c) of things uppermost part, extremity, end point; of buildings keystone, capstone (MT 21.42); (d) leading city, capital (AC 16.12)

Liddel-Scott-Jones 24124 Abridged:

the head of man or beast, Hom., etc.; κατὰ κεφαλῆς, Ep. κὰκ κεφαλῆς, over the head, Id.; κὰκκεφαλήν on the head, Il.:- ἐς πόδας ἐκ κεφαλῆς from head to foot, Ib.:- ἐπὶ κεφαλήν head foremost, head downwards, headlong, Hdt., Plat., etc.

2. the head, put for the whole person, Hom.; ἶσον ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ like myself, Il.; φίλη κ., Lat. carum caput, Ib.: in bad sense, ὦ κακαὶ κεφαλαί Hdt.; ὦ μιαρὰ κ. Ar.

3. the head, i.e. the life, παρθέμενοι κεφαλάς setting their heads on the cast, Od.:-in imprecations, ἐς κεφαλὴν τρέποιτ᾽ ἐμοί on my head be it! Ar., etc.

II. generally, κ. σκορόδου a head of garlic, Id.: the top or brim of a vessel, Theocr.: the coping of a wall, Xen.:-in pl. the head or source of a river, Hdt.

III. metaph., like κεφάλαιον, the crown, completion of a thing, Plat.

Louw-Nida 8.10:

κεφαλή, ῆς f - 'head.' θέλω ἵνα ἐξαυτῆς δῳσ μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ 'I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a plate' Mk 6.25. In some languages it may be necessary to distinguish clearly between the head which is still a part of a body and a severed head. It is this latter meaning which is obviously involved in Mk 6.25 .In rendering 1 Cor 11.4, πᾶς ἀνὴρ προσευχόμενος ἢ προφητεύων κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων 'any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered,' it may be important to indicate that the covering is not one which is designed to cover the entire head including the face, but only the top of the head. The same applies, of course, to 1 Cor 11.5 and 7.

In each instance, the lexicon is prone to interpreting the various occurrences of κεφαλή, with little justification as to the various interpretive placements. While one cannot dismiss glosses out of hand, a proper methodology ought to focus on the individual occurrences within a specific corpus before turning to the various lexicons.[20] Lexicons are summaries of data that cannot replace commentaries or monographs on specific subjects.[21] Context decides the meaning of a particular lexeme, and now we turn to that specific and vexatious word: κεφαλή.

2b. Kephalē and the Necessity of Contextual Distinctives in Paul

The Greek word κεφαλή occurs 67 times in the New Testament, with a majority of occurrences coming in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (37 times)[22] and the Book of Revelation (16 times).[23] Paul uses the noun a mere 13 times in his surviving epistles.  Some of these instances clearly fall under the physiological category[24] (c.f. Rom 12:20: τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν ἄνθρακας πυρὸς σωρεύσεις ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ)[25] with no specific denotation or connotation of 'authority' or 'source.' It must be said that there are at least two separate categories for "head" in Paul when he uses the term in a metaphorical or mixed (metaphor and literal) manner. One category concerns conduct within the ekklesia (Rom 12:20; 1 Cor 11:2-16, 12:21; Col 2:19; Eph 4:15-16, 5:23), and the other category concerns Christ's relationship with the Powers (Eph 1:22; Col 2:10). While there is some blurring between these categories given the household nature of the ancient church,[26] interpreters ought to exercise caution in assuming and consequently conflating the two categories together. Christ's relationship to the Church is different than his relationship to the various Sovereignties—one is reconciled to God, the other is ultimately destroyed (1 Cor 15:24-28)

2c. Kephalē and the Discourse of Col 2:8-23

The epistolary context of Col 2:8-23 shows a great deal of continued linguistic correspondence with Col 1:15-20. What defines κεφαλὴ in the pericope that follows is determined by authorial application and by the epistolary context of Colossians, and not by a narrow lexical category.[27]

Col 2:10

The use of ἐν αὐτῷ occurs significantly in both chapters (1:14, 16, 17, 19; 2:9, 10) in Paul's Christology of creation, where Christ's actions as creator are stressed, and 1:15, 18 and 2:10a have similar syntax:

1:15: ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ

1:18: αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ

2:10b: ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ[28]

The correspondence language between the Christ-Hymn, Christ's role as Creator, and Paul's language of the Powers in 2:10 strongly suggests a thematic and linguistic relationship.[29]

καὶ ἐστὲ ἐν αὐτῷ πεπληρωμένοι, ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας: ("and you have been filled in/by him, who is the head of all rule and authority"). For Wayne Grudem, this verse "emphasizes that Christ is the authority over[30] not only the church, but over all rulers and authorities, over all powers in the universe."[31] To be the "head" is to be in authority over the powers. Cervin argues

The notion of authority may be present [in Col 2:10], but so are prominence and preeminence. Again, the question is which notion, if any, is primary? It is unlikely that "source" is applicable in this context because that would make Christ the source of "every ruler and authority" and that does not make much sense in this context.[32]

Proponents of κεφαλή as meaning generally "source" like Philip Payne suggest, "the meaning 'top or crown' fits" Col 2:10 better than 'source.'"[33] However, both Grudem, Cervin and Payne miss a crucial element: Paul specifically speaks of Christ being the "creator" (ἐκτίσθη; ἔκτισται) in Col 1:16 and Paul specifically includes the various Sovereignties and Empires as created entities:[34] indeed, 1:16a begins with the aorist ἐκτίσθη and bookends with v.16b with the perfect ἔκτισται, showing that Christ bookends the creation of the totality of the hostile powers (τὰ πάντα …εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι… τὰ πάντα), who are subsequently reconciled to God (vv.19-20).[35] "Source," seen as the preexistent Son's power to create even the hostile Powers that have enslaved humanity (1:13), shows his own preeminence over them as a subsidiary—not primary—meaning.[36]

The primary connotation for this lexeme, therefore, not "authority" or "top/crown," but "source" or "origination" in terms of Christ being the agent of creation. Christ, as Creator, is preeminent over the Sovereignties by nature of being their Creator. However, Joseph Fitzmyer claims, "those who have claimed than[37] "source" is the meaning intended by Paul have offered no other argument than their claim that kephalē would not have meant "ruler, leader, one having authority over" in Paul's day."[38] As one can see, Fitzmyer is simply mistaken: I have offered contextual and theological reasons for seeing Paul's intended use in terms of "originator" or "source" without once appealing to the paucity of evidence that kephalē might mean "authority over"[39]—it certainly might.[40] Given Christ's role as "creator" in 1:16 in relation to the Sovereignties, the best understanding of 2:10 should be seen primarily in terms of "source" or "origination" and not in terms of "rulership."[41]

Col 2:18-19

καὶ οὐ κρατῶν τὴν κεφαλήν, ἐξ οὗ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα διὰ τῶν ἁφῶν καὶ συνδέσμων ἐπιχορηγούμενον καὶ συμβιβαζόμενον αὔξει τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ θεοῦ: "and not holding onto the head, from which the entire body—through the ligaments and sinews being supplied and instructed together—grows in the growth of God." Wayne Grudem asserts: "the idea of allegiance to Christ instead of to angels makes the mention of Christ as “authority over” the church an appropriate one in this context. Especially when we realize that the image of head involves not just authority but leadership, direction, guidance, and control, then the following idea of the whole body being knit together and growing together is appropriate."[42] However, this interpretation is most unlikely for two reasons. First, the preposition ἐξ, which is used in both a locative and instrumental sense, suggests "source" or "movement" from τὴν κεφαλήν to the rest of the body.[43] The life of the body and the production of its faculties are derived exclusively from its head—Christ. Hence, Christ is the cause of the Body in the first place (c.f. 1:17-18), so we have a 'head-body' image here. Second, the somatic imagery used in Col 1:6 and 1:10[44] forces us to prefer the organic nature of τὴν κεφαλήν instead of the "ruling" component.[45] Given the explicit language of growth and somatic imagery at play, we have the additional language of avoiding the cosmic elements of bodily abuse (2:20-23), where Christ is not present.

Grudem writes, "whether the idea of “nourishing” carries an image of food that is transported through the mouth (a part of the head) to the rest of the body is not made clear here."[46] It is worth noting, however, that Paul does speak about the Colossian church "eating" and "drinking" in 2:16 and 2:21, where the church is not to worry about being judged for their feasting habits.[47] In summation of this point, the intra-participatory nature of Paul's somatic image is fully in line with his thought elsewhere (1 Cor 12:12-27) and suggests a united harmony between Christ and his Body; the focus in Col 2:19 is not on the authority relationship between Christ and the Body in any explicit manner, despite Grudem's claims.[48] Rather, Paul's focus is on Christ as the preeminent creator and sustainer of our lives, the one who takes a hold of our very lives (3:3), so that we in the Son who will be apocalyptically manifested (3:4), the only hope of our future glory (1:27).

            Conclusion

Paul's prepositional Christology is both locative and instrumental, revealing a complex and intricate relationship between God and the Powers. In our study, we have seen that—in Colossians—Christ is the agent of creation, the preexistent creator who has been manifested in glory for us. As a consequence, Christ's active and locative relationship with the Sovereignties reveals two facets of the Christian life. First, Christ is preeminent over creation for the benefit of the church, as our protector; in stripping the Sovereignties of their power, God in Christ has triumphed over all evil and death, nailing such tyrants to the cross. Second, Christ's relationship to his Body—the Church—is one of generosity, where God-in-Christ relates to us not as a sovereign, but as a beloved father (Col 1:2). As the source of our existence, and as the sustainer and holder of our lives, where a new humanity can grow, thrive and flourish in the Kingdom of God's beloved Son (Col 3:10-11).

NQ

[1] Richard S. Cervin, "On the Significance of Kephalē ("Head"): A Study of the Abuse of One Greek Word," Priscilla Papers 30.2 (2016): 8-20, 8.

[2] Since the noun under question does not occur in the Colossian Haustafel, my arguments are independent of the debate concerning the ordination of women—although it must be said that I am in support of the ordination of women. For the various understandings of κεφαλὴ in the literature, perhaps representative is Anthony Thisleton's First Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 812-822 ["preeminence"]. Other helpful—and diverse—works include Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 117-137 ["source"]; Joseph Fitzmyer, "Kephalē in I Corinthians 11:3," Interpretation 47 (1993): 52-59 [mixed, leans toward "authority" or "ruler"]; Fred D. Layman, "Male Headship in Paul's Thought," Wesleyan Theological Journal 15.1 (1980): 46-76 [broadly "source"]; Wayne Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples," Trinity Journal 6.1 (1985): 38-59 ["authority over" or "ruler"] and Andrew Perriman, "The Head of a Woman: The Meaning of κεφαλὴ in 1 Cor. 11:3," Journal of Theological Studies 45.2 (1994): 602-622 ["preeminent"]. For a major survey of the literature until 2008, see Alan F. Johnson, "A Review of the Scholarly Debate on the Meaning of "Head" (κεφαλὴ) in Paul's Writings," Ashland Theological Journal (2009): 35-57, who leans toward "preeminence."

[3] BDAG 2196 states: "generally functioning as marker of position within, but used to govern numerous other categories, such as means, agency, cause, and associated aspects." Stanley E. Porter notes the following concerning agency and ἐν: "the label 'instrumental' is given to a range of metaphorical extensions of the locative sense of ἐν. Temporal location can and often does imply the idea of accompaniment, control, agency, cause and even means (price)." See Idioms of the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.: Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 158. If am I understanding Porter correctly, the notion of realm/locality is not to be entirely removed from the actions of a particular agent.

[4] While there is a textual variant concerning Κολοσσαῖς, the earliest disruptive witness is Codex Claromontanus in the 6th century; Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Vaticanus support the standard reading.

[5] Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 16, believes this phrase refers to the "realm" of the faith exercised by the Colossians.

[6] The present tense-form ἔχω most likely refers to an achieved and enduring consequence of a previous act: the liberation and transference of a people from one state to another in v.13.

[7] Liberation is from slavery and bondage (Ex 6:6 LXX: καὶ ῥύσομαι ὑμᾶς ἐκ τῆς δουλείας καὶ λυτρώσομαι ὑμᾶς ἐν βραχίονι ὑψηλῷ καὶ κρίσει μεγάλῃ), a people group leaving an oppressive empire for the Kingdom of God. This is where my final paper for MMT at Fuller is centered.

[8] The dual activity of God and Christ here (God liberates, and Christ gives us ἀπολύτρωσιν or "redemption") suggests a high view of Christ's work and appears to assume a form of preexistence—a view that is largely evident in the Christ-Hymn to come.

[9] Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 158.

[10] A very late scribe interpolated εἴτε δυνάμεις after εἴτε ἐξουσίαι. The sole evidence for this reading comes from 14th c., "a paper ms. of Acts, General Epistles and 1 Peter-Hebrews, located at St. Catherine’s Monastery, classified as an Aland category II text." Per Bibleworks Apparatus. The significance of this variant is that a scribe sought to include a universal element of the various powers and sovereignties in the cosmos, and the lack of δυνάμεις by Paul was intended to expand upon Paul's cosmological statement.

[11] James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 91 n.20. This seems to downplay the nuances of both prepositions. See Porter, Idioms, 156-159 and 148-151 for a discussion on the differences.

[12] Harris, Colossians & Philemon, 44.

[13] C.f. 2 Cor 5:17: ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις: "if anyone is in Christ, new creation." This verse and grammatical sequence suggest a clear locative element to the "in Christ" motif, in a way that is distinct from Paul's own language in Col 1:16a.

[14] Robert McL. Wilson, Colossians and Philemon (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 137-138.

[15] Marva J. Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), esp. ch1.

[16]  There are numerous terms and images used by Paul to describe the Cosmic Christ. The inference of 1:13 is that Jesus is God's Son and the present King over the kingdom of God (τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ); Christ is "Lord" (κύριος: 1:3, 10; 2:6; 3:13, 17-4:1, 7, 17), and Messiah (Χριστός). Jesus is also described as "the hope of glory" (ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης: 1:27b), and as "creator" (v.16; ἐκτίσθη, ἔκτισται) and "beginning" (ἀρχή:v.18), which stresses his creative causal power. Christ is also called the "head" (κεφαλὴ) of his own "body" defined epexegetically as the "church" (τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας), twice in relation to his own σῶμα (1:18; 2:19). Finally, but not exhaustively, Christ is "revealed" or "made manifest" to us (ἐφανερώθη: 1:26; 3:4; 4:4) as God's final bodily incarnational manifestation.

[17] The middle ἐκτίσθη probably stresses the actual creation of the universe, which suggests both locality and agency on the part of the preexistent Son.

[18] A phrase coined by Christianity Today, January 16, 1987. Cited by John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (4th ed: Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 357 n.45.

[19] Friberg's conflation of "first" and "superior" in relation is unhelpful, as both terms convey distinct meanings. For instance, one could say, "I hit my head first and then I fell down." A notion of "superiority" is absent from the context, and so Friberg's non-descript gloss is unhelpful for those who rely solely on lexicons to determine theology. It is also worth noting that "first" is not the same as "superior." Temporality does not equate to a value judgment, which Friberg seems to infer.

[20] For instance, Friberg's gloss "as directing agent within a ranking system" is misleading, as arguably several of the occurrences are within a political context (c.f. Eph 1:22 and the "Powers").

[21] A lexeme also does not necessarily derive a meaning simply from its philology either: rather, context is the decisive factor in determining a preferential gloss over and against others.

[22] Matt 5:36; 6:17; 8:20; 10:30; 14:8, 11: 21:42; 26:7; 27:29; 27:30, 37, 39. Mark 6:24-28; 12:10; 14:3; 15:19, 29. Luke 7:38, 46; 9:58; 12:7; 20:17; 21:18, 28. John 13:9; 19:2, 30; 20:7, 12. Acts 4:11; 18:6, 18; 21:24; 27:34. See also the language of Jesus in reference to the "cornerstone" (Matt 21:42 par Mark 12:10/ Luke 20:17 and Acts 4:11)

[23] Rev 1:14; 4:4; 9:7, 17, 19; 10:1; 12:1, 3; 13:1, 3; 14:14; 17:3, 7, 9; 18:19; 19:12. We see a mix of apocalyptic metaphorical imagery here, but no specific instance of a person being directly referred to as "authority" or "ruler."

[24] As Cervin states rather dryly: "What then does kephalē mean? The answer is easy: the literal head." "On the Significance," 18.

[25] Paul's direct citation of Prov 25:22 LXX reveals that this lexeme is not concerned with 'head' as a metaphor, but rather in a physiological sense. See also 1 Cor 12:21: ἢ πάλιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῖς ποσίν: Χρείαν ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔχω, where the function of the lexeme is for the physiological aspect to be given primacy as it relates to the various parts of the "body" are interdependent.

[26] C.f. Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald with Janet H. Tulloch, A Woman's Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006) and Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009).

[27] This is not to say that Plutarch or Philo is irrelevant to this conversation; rather it is to say Paul is permitted to use an admittedly polysemous word in any way he wants to.

[28] Specifically 1:15 and 2:10b: relative pronoun + εἰμί + object in the nominative.

[29] C.f. also the close relationship between "fullness" (πλήρωμα; πληρόω) in 1:19 and 2:9-10.

[30] Paul does not include a spatial preposition like ὑπέρ here, so the addition of "over" in Grudem's gloss is misleading. Paul's only specific uses of a spatial preposition in reference to κεφαλή is in 1 Cor 11:10 (διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς), which refers to a woman's authority to prophesy and not to her subordination (c.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 181-187; Westfall, Paul and Gender, 35-36), and in Eph 1:22, where Christ is exalted "over" the Powers for the sake of the church (καὶ αὐτὸν ἔδωκεν κεφαλὴν ὑπὲρ πάντα τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ: taking the dative in terms of benefit: τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ as "to the church"). Harris makes the same mistake as Grudem. Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 100.

[31] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?," 57. It is worth noting that while Grudem emphatically states his thoughts on this verse, he does not provide any specific reason as to why we must favor his gloss within this specific verse—what may be obvious to him is not immediately obvious to other interpreters. In light of Christ's role as creator, it seems unlikely that "ruler" is a lexeme of primacy.

[32] Cervin, "On the Significance," 18.

[33] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 128 n.72.

[34] A point also noted by Marianne Meye Thompson, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 54.

[35] Paul's similar use of bookended prepositional phrases confirms that Christ is the active agent of creation: "by him" (ἐν αὐτῷ) and "through him" (δι᾽ αὐτοῦ). Paul's theology of Christ and creation, it seems, is prepositional rather than propositional. See James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 91.

[36] This brings up a lingering question that Paul does not answer: if Christ is the creator of the Powers, what does this say about theodicy and instances of severe evil in our world that are beyond our control?

[37] This is how they original spelled the word.

[38] Fitzmyer, "Kephalē in I Corinthians 11:3," 59.

[39] Indeed, I have never asserted anything that would lead a proponent of the "authority" reading to think otherwise, nor have I seen any such scholar do so. Fitzmyer does not offer a footnote to elucidate his claim, so one is left wondering exactly who Fitzmyer has in mind.

[40] C.f. perhaps Ephesians 5:22-24, but even within the concept of marital hierarchy, one seems mutual submission in v.21 as a guiding light that illuminates the rest of the passage. C.f. Cynthia Long Westfall, "This is a Great Metaphor!" Reciprocity in the Ephesians Household Code," in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Context for the New Testament, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Andrew Pitts (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 561-598.

[41] Even if one wanted to see some sort of preeminence or prominence (per Perriman and Cervin), and I admit this is possible, 'rulership' is a highly limited word to understand Paul's contextual uses of the noun under dispute.

[42] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?" 58.

[43] Porter, Idioms, 154-156. Specifically, "if something is the origin or source of something, it may often be possible to say that it is the instrument, cause or agent by which something comes about." 155.

[44] καρποφορούμενον καὶ αὐξανόμενον, 1:6; καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι, 1:10.

[45] For instance, Col 1:10 speaks of us "walking/living in a manner worthy of God" (περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου), showing a relationship where God in Christ is the source of our ethical lives, and we grow through the work of God in Christ.

[46] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?" 58.

[47] Dunn, Colossians and Philemon, 173.

[48] The language of subordination or hierarchy is not immediately present in the relationship between Christ and the Body, so Grudem has assumed a narrow lexical range without sufficient justification. There is also a forced and selective hermeneutic at play here: Grudem accepts that Paul was not a patriarchalist—as was the standard in the ancient world, so even in Grudem's complementarian schema, Paul has changed the nature of marital hierarchy to where the headship of the husband "must be exercised in love, in gentleness, and with consideration for one's wife above one's self." P.57. This is an arbitrary hermeneutic that gives preference to an area where Paul developed his thought above the ancient world, but refuses to allow Paul to nuance his own lexical framework.

Resisting Evil Part 2: The Incarnation and the Iconoclast

“And do not participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them.” (Ephesians 5:11.)

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So often the call to stand against evil comes from a triumphalist position of power. We are asked to rise from our lofty position of comfort and offer a hand from above to the unfortunate. More often, the stand against evil is thought to be against “known” agreed upon evil. Too easy. Minority group or person X is evil and hence they must pay.

But often the need for warriors and knights require material and social risk and when knights turn their backs, the one called to fight is the one being crushed. This brief reflection on the incarnation and the iconoclast reaches up to the discussion on resisting evil from below. It is especially for those facing destructive hostility on a prolonged basis and presents the audacious call to oppose evil from the ground.

...

While on earth, Jesus associated with those the world deemed lowly but God saw infinite value in (a pattern with God throughout the Bible), he resisted the devil’s call in the wilderness to bend the knee, he called out hypocrisy and died on a cross all the while asking us to do the same. The Jewish leaders wanted to destroy him and all he stood for as a challenge to their power and the Roman empire appropriated his death to make a sick mockery of a defeated people (“King of the Jews”).

And yet, the cross is a symbol of the victory and power of God over sin and death that radically reoriented human history. Any attempts the iconoclast made to mar the image of God was subverted and their power inverted.

Read the rest at Tim Fall's blog.

Or check out Resisting Evil: Pt. 1 “Forgiveness” Versus Stepping Out in Faith

 

"We will all be Judged:" Politics and Evangelicals before the Seat of Christ

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In reflecting on the recent devastating news about Roy Moore, I have noticed a deep and terrifying tendency for people to make any sort of excuse in order to defend their political candidate. This is not new to any specific side of the political spectrum, as all people are deeply aware of the moral failings of most of the major political players in the United States. And yet, we elect them or hold our nose or make excuses for them.

This is normal.

And normal is not always a good thing.

What is most troubling for me, however, is the desire to excuse and ignore the perversity in our midst as evangelical Christians—as if we will not be judged for our sins.

This is a strong theme in Paul's epistles, especially in relation to Christians. In Rom 14:10, Tertius writes:

"But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you also show contempt for your brother or sister? For we will all (πάντες) stand in front of the seat (τῷ βήματι) of God."

V.9 speaks of Christ being the Lord (κυριεύσῃ) over the "living and the dead" (νεκρῶν καὶ ζώντων), which gives us a more universalistic scope of Christ's lordship. Here, in v.10, God is seated on the throne and in v.12 Tertius writes:

"So then, each one of us will give an account of themselves to God"

Similarly in 2 Cor 5:10, we have Paul writing

"For all of us (πάντας ἡμᾶς) must appear before the judgment seat (τοῦ βήματος) of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil" (NRSV)

The last phrase of v.10b is the most unnerving aspect of Paul's eschatology: εἴτε ἀγαθὸν εἴτε φαῦλον. Woodenly translated, this phrase says "whether good, whether evil." Paul, presumably, includes himself in this judgment and if Paul does, we are also included. This also suggests Paul's Christology and Monotheism are far more fluid, as the Person in the "seat" can either be God or Christ given the circumstance.

Whether good, whether evil.

That should send chills down the spine of everyone making excuses and defying the moral commands in Scripture.

Christians are included in this sphere of judgment, and we will have to give an explanation for our deeds. In these days, we see some Evangelicals bending over backward to defend the indefensible. Sometimes twisting Scripture to support evil. 

God does not forget such sins, nor our attempts to cover up sins. This includes me, and this includes you, and this includes us.

Standing before Christ and saying, "but the Democrat might win" will not cut it in the Eschaton.

Standing before Christ and saying, "but that was in the past" will not cut in with your brothers and sisters standing there to witness such excuses.

Think of these things when defending people simply because of the letter after their name. God does not care about your political party because only Christ is king. Trying to establish a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian King on earth is not a Christian calling.

We will be held accountable for who we defend, who we condemn, and our conduct in our every day lives. God notices, God remembers.

We proclaim Christ's lordship, not Caesars.

NQ

The Spirit Unites Us In Prayer: Prayer As An Apocalyptic Opening

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I've had an interesting relationship with God over the years. He is ever-present though not always felt, will speak up on occasion, be silent much of the time but also orchestrate elaborate webs of spiritual formation along with God knows what else. He has a sense of humor, loves natural imagery and though he is so other and perfect is the kind of God you can sense will just sit with you. More interesting still is when God starts to tell you things that make concrete differences you can see.

The Little Things

Much of the time I do not suspect God speaks to me, but the times I treasure most besides the vision of light, have been those quiet times when he has whispered gems of wisdom at just the right time. For example, when during the day I was passing the grass field at Biola that I used to like to pray in the middle of late at night, he stopped me and had me go out and look up. I was not sure why, but it is not often when I suspect I hear something (and even then one can often just suspect) and so I looked. There was a brilliant view of the mountains from that spot! "Why didn't I notice these before!? I've looked out this way during the day too!" And then, they were always there even when covered by the smog and clouds just as I am always here even when you do not see me.  And yet, then there was that time when I was meditating on Matthew 11:28-30 with the camp kids and was pierced. I am not like your abuser. I was hurt and in denial at first, but he was right that at a level I felt that way and so I worked through it. And worse, there was that time when I wanted to hear from him and hadn't for quite some time so I prayed and waited for a month and then when crossing the street: How would you feel if you thought you could not study at Fuller anymore? And soon after I lost funding (but now resolved). All of these even though painful at the time helped me grow and trust him. Still, if I am honest, the times I learned to trust him the most were those days in my past when he felt absent (more on this another time).

God Cares About Our Messed Up Relationships

And then there are those very odd times where God orchestrates something and involves you out of the blue. It never ceases to amaze me how much God cares about our interpersonal lives even while he holds the entire universe together and is intimately involved in a highly complex way with how all of the pieces move together. But that is who he is. He cares to such an infinite degree.

A long while ago, I had a dream where I saw a friend's girlfriend named Jenn very clearly the day before I met her. The next day I was so freaked out I even got into a denial argument with her: "No, your name can't be Jenn!" "My name is Jenn..." Puzzled I interacted with her, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary about her and we got along just fine. She was quite pleasant to be around. I was bothered for months. She kept interacting with me and frankly my radar would not have gone off if it were not for that dream. In time, she seemed to know several old friends I was no longer in contact with too. Well, long story short: She had my friend trapped in a morbid web of lies! She had made him think he was personally responsible for her being raped by someone 3 times, having a stillborn baby she supposedly named after him (she was never pregnant) and a whole lot of other things including an evil twin 'Jenna' who was really" to blame for everything--all aimed at keeping him with her. It may sound ridiculous from the outside, but if you are in the middle of a manipulative person's web of deceit you will gradually believe anything. 

She would even stalk individuals in his life and pretend she knew extended network connections and use it to lodge herself in his life. I gathered this information for a while and ended up confronting her myself with another person in authority. My friend was a mess for quite some time, but at least free of her. God saw the mess he was in and by extraordinary means used someone else to step in where my friend could not. I don't think I ever told him the circumstances surrounding how I figured out all the lies, but God had it in mind to step in and I got to be a small part of it even though I was still young and had so many problems of my own. And I am sure God sent all sorts of people my way as well and still does! He uses us in powerful ways to form, rescue and walk alongside those around us.

And then I am reminded of some recent events where I was told to pray out of the blue for someone and then act in faith at a certain time when I saw the image of Jesus out on the water. I was so confused until I was there and followed the instructions! The results were huge and I was delivered from a piece of a very big ongoing problem. Without going too much into detail, I suspect the other person God used at the moment had no idea what he was doing or that God was prompting him to act since it went against his best interest and his interests may possibly be entirely opposed to God's. And there it is, one of the difficulties with being in a relationship with God, or merely being used by him for a moment: God cares about everyone else, not just you and will put you in harm's way to accomplish certain ends. And yet, in another sense what he develops in you in the process if you will let him is usually in the big picture the highest good you can receive.

The Spirit Is the Space Between Us

Something that struck me in hindsight about that time I was enveloped in light was how personal and everywhere present God was. So intimately intertwined with our reality and yet we do not see it in the every day. We do not understand the space we inhabit or the high stakes of our interactions with others. Not only does God see everything we do and think, but is intimately present in the midst of it all.

Recently, I have been involved in a highly complex and messy situation that has caused me personal harm (though just a moment in eternity). Still, in the midst of it all, I have realized just how interconnected we truly are in the Spirit. I have very recently started verbally casting out spirits of deception and distortion in a certain place along with my other prayers and have been amazed at the fog that has lifted and the things even I am beginning to recognize that I could not fully before. And yet, I and others can do so because it does not matter where we are physically if the Spirit is present since he is everywhere present. He fills that space and so no one around the world is far from another when prayer is involved. My church can pray for me and I will receive it anywhere whether at school, work or home. God fills all of the quiet spaces as well and even inhabits the space between our thoughts and intentions, though they may be hidden from others they are not hidden from him.

Prayer is not something to take lightly. It's not informational. We are not telling God anything he does not know already, it is not about that. We are entering into a dynamic relationship with him where we are orienting ourselves, our desires, thoughts and will towards him and opening ourselves up to him and his world in the Spirit. We are acknowledging the power that is his (we at best have some on lend) and trusting him with ourselves. We ask him for help, hopefully, are continually recognizing and thanking him, asking him to put us in places we can help and serve, asking him to bring us into new heights of loving those around us, asking for knowledge and wisdom, for the cleansing of our minds and hearts. Prayer with God by nature interpersonal and not meant to always just a private matter. Maybe this is also why he wants us to pray for and with one another? Part of being oriented towards God is being oriented in love towards one another and come alongside them in the Spirit. We were ultimately made for being in a loving relationship with others within a relationship with God.

Then there are those uncomfortable times when God sends us or others to us to expose aspects we want to keep hidden or are ashamed of. In my experience, those are the best times and have the most opportunities for becoming the person God intends and there is nothing better than this. I am not struggling with feeling exposed at the moment, but I am having a difficult time with something else and am not sure what the next several weeks or years will be like (though some very interesting good and positive developments as well), but I can definitely say God is at work and so I will not be overly concerned no matter what happens. Still, pray for me. ;)

 

 

 

 

Surviving Psychological Warfare From Abusive People

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"Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

-Psalm 46:10-11

It had been nearly 3 years since my last struggle with PTSD and a debilitating back injury from the years of abuse and I finally felt free from my past in concrete ways. School and professional work came easily and quickly to me and finally, I did not have to take extended periods of rest just to get through the day and could work long hours (yes, I was actually excited about this!). I was even able to reconnect with some old martial art hobbies. But the sheer joy was short lived. Suddenly I found myself shoved back into several dark themes from my childhood replete with a narcissistic projector, bullies, and isolation, except with resources.

Initially, I did not want to believe what was happening even as I sensed it. What were the chances? And yet, I felt the threat in my environment, a talent resulting from having to quickly identify and predict narcissistic rage followed by violence as a child. Once I acknowledged what was happening to myself, I quickly started running through my checklist of what to expect. I knew more than likely I would have no help, the wider group would turn on & try and punish me believing the abusive person in part or entirely. I also knew to expect to either eventually be eliminated (any reputation I had would not matter) or suffer for possibly years. Oh, and then there would be those instances that somehow it was my fault to X degree I was targeted and questions about forgiveness if I ever, ever told anyone about it. I was not so concerned with this part of it, I am frankly used to it. Still, one more thing to deal with.

I was scared. I knew what was ahead and did not want to go there, yet go there I was. Still, it helped to go in afresh already understanding some basic power dynamics and having some tools in my tool bag.

What follows are only some of my basic strategies for dealing with abusive people. More specifically, how to survive psychologically while being repeatedly targeted. "Targeting" is behavior that is ongoing (if not predatory), harmful and directed at you. The behavior can take the form of a person(s) continually projecting their insecurities onto you by continuously harassing, belittling or physically hurting you, trying to humiliate, embarrass, isolate and/or ruin your reputation. I've even had at one time someone follow me around and lie about me to everyone I tried to talk to as a new person.

The goal of the abusive person is zero-sum: In order for me to maintain my image of myself, become greater or feel big you must be destroyed. It is a mistake to attribute this to insecurity. Rather, it is an inflated ego that must consume all in its path at whatever cost. It is about their need for power and control and they have targeted you as a threat to that. I do not have any special education in this area, only my own experience, and some informal research. Take my advice as just that and adapt according to your specific situation and seek professional counsel in cases of physical abuse. For prayer, more specific examples or strategies (including tactics) that are not included here please contact me via email: allisonquient@hotmail.com.

Before I begin, please note that I am absolutely opposed to revenge and believe you should, if you can, remove yourself from the situation or avoid these people! However, this is not always possible. Sometimes they will try and use people in power to try and yank you back into their clutches (or are the people in power) or will try and follow and sabotage you. Apply the following as aids of resilience to help you hold out until you can escape:

  • Formation of Your Core
  • Being Still/Quiet Inside
  • Know the Board/Battle Field 

Formation of Your Core

Understand that at its core the abusive behavior is about power and control. They want to have control over your person and identity so that they can be "bigger." You must have a strong sense of self to resist their advances. In elementary school, people with weaknesses are targeted for those weaknesses, but more often among adults, it is done toward those who are in some way or another perceived as "threats." More than likely you were targeted because you represent a threat, not because you are deficient.

A narrative of "deficiency" is a tactic the abusive person employs, not the motivating factor. This might be because you have something they want. Perhaps you are liked, talented, you threaten their paradigm, you are different in some way...etc. It could also be that they have this hole in their life and need to project their faults and motives onto someone else. In the case of bullying, statistically bully targets are independent, highly skilled, have a high level of emotional intelligence, altruistic, intelligent and otherwise well liked. I even experienced a backlash at one point because, in addition to everything else, I would not go along with at least three attempts of a targeter to smear a leader who was correcting this person's errors. Sadly, the favor was not returned by this leader when it was my turn. Regrets? NOPE. All of this to say, it is not you, it's them, 100%. Don't give equal validity to the characterizations of manipulative and abusive people.

Primarily, you are engaged in psychological warfare and must be resilient and established in your sense of self. Your objective once you know you are being bullied, harassed, abused: survive and continue your right to your vocational calling to live out of God's love. Let God be manifest in your situation and form you in the process of destruction (Seeing Christ in the Dark). If you cannot leave or remove yourself from the situation, think: You may do X to me but I will pray, be formed in the light of Christ and oppose you with all the means at my disposal. However, they will wear you down with their negative messages whether you believe them or not and you must keep resisting especially when they gaslight you or make you think it is all in your head (switching between them having your best interest in mind, but then again, you are just an "incompetent piece of crap"). This can also take the form of constant subtle messages that are highly contextual and will make you sound like a crazy person if you try and tell anyone else.

Clear the next several months if possible and figure out ways to lower the inflammation in your body (low impact exercise, massages, herbal remedies...etc), buy some food that your stomach can handle under extreme stress when you do not want to eat (ex: Miso), and you will probably need Vitamin B Complex (or nutritional yeast) in a few weeks. 

Over time you will start to not be able to recognize yourself as easily. You will be constantly on edge from hypervigilance, may have internalized some of the narratives, or started to act and think in ways adapted to a dysfunctional environment. After I had gathered enough information to know what was going on, develop and implement a survival strategy I found I was still on edge and way too aware of everything around me. After several months this was unsustainable and I was drained. I had even absorbed another person affected anxiety! It was time to consciously remember who I was and separate myself from what I was absorbing from my environment while still allowing myself to perceive what I needed to (contact me for details on how to create psychological boundaries).

That said, contact several friends outside of the situation who can remind you of who you are over an extended period of time. Be proactive now so you are in a better position to put up a fight because eventually, you will not be able to think as clearly. You are a human being and humans need community and belonging. Expect pain from extended isolation and personal attacks even if going in prepared.

As believers, our sense of self comes from our identity in Christ, our God who will never leave us nor forsake us and sees within us infinite value, worth, and dignity. What will ultimately keep you going is: 1) Hope, 2) A clear understanding of who you are and 3) conviction that you are not alone. First, recognize that this will not last forever and rest assured in God's future reconciliation of the world. Take a moment to breath realizing it may not seem like it, but this will not last forever. Our hope is in God's kingdom come and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven. On this basis, we can pray for our everyday sustenance and survival in the here and now. God's hope is 'why' we can keep fighting and pressing on (Resisting Evil). Find passages to meditate on (Psalms are great) in times of discouragement and find liturgical prayers and icons for when you are run down, and your mind is less articulate (there will be physiological changes over an extended period). 

Second, know yourself very well. Regarding weaknesses, DO NOT let abusive people define you. They will twist minor things into major things and even make stuff up. They will block you from social resources and barrage you with crazy messages about yourself. It's their pattern. Expect it. Don't even take the time to consider the supposed "kernel of truth." If you need outside input, depend on people who have proven themselves to be friends calling you out when you are wrong and encouraging you in what is good. In other words, internalize NOTHING from an abusive person since their thinking and habits are distorted and unreliable. Do NOT grant anything to them and do NOT use their evil behavior as opportunities for reflecting on your faults. This also means having strong psychological boundaries where the abusive person's reactions are on them and you do not take responsibility in any way shape or form. Those of us who have grown up in abusive contexts often have what I call a rigid cause and effect type thinking. I spilled the milk, therefore, I am responsible for you flying off the handle. Or, you did X horrible things, I reported it and you got in trouble, therefore I am to blame for what happened to you. You are not responsible for their mess.

To complicate matters further, those around you will most likely turn on you, try and heap guilt and responsibility on you, and if someone is actively lying about you, others will most likely believe them! Expect it. Plan on it. Move your next several months around and plan out little retreats. If they have not completely bought into the abuser's narrative, they will at least think you are responsible for not defending yourself properly, for not just "ignoring" it, or you somehow had it coming in some way. Often the abusive person has sucked others into their constructed narrative about you to rationalize their behavior and sabotage you ahead of time. At the very least, hold onto who you are and don't get lost in the narrative yourself. Listen to God's voice in prayer and in his word and let him breathe truth into your mind when everything gets chaotic and distorted. 

Lastly, know you are not alone. God is with you. You must pray, and pray often because God will help protect and form your inner self during this awful time and because sometimes he will rescue you from the situation itself. Much could be said on this point (see my other posts). That said, get outside help in the form of friends, coworkers, people from church, family...etc anyone who will support you. Avoid like the plague those who have the knee-jerk reaction to assign you blame or add moral responsibilities of forgiveness, politeness or anything really while you are in the middle of fighting for your life. Unfortunately, you must be calm, collected, outwardly snap happy and polite, but out of necessity so that others do not attack you, not out of moral obligation or imperative. I watched in awe as a woman who was still being harassed legally by a rich physical abuser (beat her up while pregnant with racial slurs) spoke to him on the phone. Think: fake Flanders family from the Simpsons. She knew she had to be polite, cheerful and careful otherwise it would be used against her. This is not something I do well as an introvert. When I am gloomy I want to be by myself and hide! Do your best. No one is perfect. Still, count on the abusive person using your "bad attitude" against you after they run you over for months or years. 

If possible get people who will keep you grounded, will concretely protect you, will help you navigate/strategize and will stand up for you if they are in a position to. You will need the wisdom of others to counteract the trauma or fatigue from having to be fake happy or calm for extended periods while fighting off the barrage of cloaked intentions, insults, overt aggression...etc.

 Being Still/Quiet Inside

Coming out on the other side of an anxiety disorder I have been learning what it means to be still and quiet inside in the midst of chaos, but as a healthy individual whose mind will not be flooded with abnormal amounts of anxiety outside of my control. In Psalm 46 it describes having a solid trust based off of who God is, the works God has done in the past and hope for tomorrow amidst poetic catastrophe. When you are being attacked verbally or physically, are having to frantically deduce pieces of gossip/lies being spread about you, or are shocked to discover you have been manipulated by someone, breathe. Internally take a step back and try and see the situation for what it is without panic. Your heart may still be racing and your head swimming because your body perceives a threat. You are being threatened and let your body respond accordingly. It is ok. You can be calm even while your body is flooded. Focus your mind on Christ who went before you and is beside you, the Spirit who is in and around you and the Father who loves and guides you. 

Directing your attention to God,  separate yourself internally from any lies, distortions or catastrophic thinking (hopelessness). Know that God is with you and on your side. Ask him for help and direct your mind to the "fight" part of fight or flight using your body's readiness for survival to your advantage. What can you observe in the moment? Do you see any openings or useful pieces of information? Become fluid and adaptable without fixating on disturbing elements. Survival depends on you being able to see the changing landscape and being able to change accordingly. You can be adaptable because your stable core is Christ and this will free you to let go of the fear in some moments and get things done. This also means being open to the Spirit's work and voice and following what is said. It also means reading the room and your opponent if you are physically or metaphorically fighting. What are his or her eyes telegraphing of their movements? If you fixate on the hand or foot coming at you, you will get hit. Look for where the abuser is going and react accordingly and wisely. Can you move out of the way? Is there a door near by? If it is the room you are reading, what do you hear or see and when? I was able to deduce some key lies being spread about me on time simply by noting silences, pauses and an innuendo or two and figuring out the themes/common elements. I was then able to figure out I was in danger, what I could counter and what I had to let go and move around. 

If you are being manipulated or harmed covertly, do not be given over to desperate moves out of panic. Calculate, but do not hesitate. Move when there is a clear or more reasonable path (you may need to use other people's minds to help you see clearly). And for heaven's sake, do not tell the villain of the story you know all about their evil plan! Sure they may have been doing this forever, and you will feel better and dignified in the moment, but it is better to keep your cards close to your chest. You may be able to out step them since you know their game. Think of it as a game. If you know how they will attack, you can be prepared and turn their attack against you against them. If you tell them what you know, they will try something else. Also, note that if someone is exhibiting predatory behavior (habitual + targeted) you will not be able to reason with them or confront them in a healthy way. You are probably high in empathy and just want peace. They don't. Don't tell them anything. Move out of their way and protect yourself instead. 

Also, note that outwardly you are not allowed to be upset. Is this horribly dysfunctional? You bet. Unfortunately, as the victim, being upset only works against you. If you are visibly offended, hurt, angry or sad often the group will turn on you faster and the abusive person will only go further in for the kill. It's messed up, but mostly true. Be hurt and sad with people you trust outside of the situation and bring it to the Lord. For now, push it aside to process in a safe place. Seek counseling if you begin to have PTSD symptoms resulting from this drawn-out encounter. 

Eventually, you will get worn out and it will cost you some ground. It's ok. Regroup, and fight another day. Try and take control of the moment when you can, but be prepared to play the long game. Many people beat themselves up about not having snappy comebacks to give to abusive people. I had tons of snappy comebacks this last time around (these people were not difficult to outsmart even without my resorting to insults or equal meanness). It didn't matter, they just went behind my back. Still, I was regularly able to take control of the moment and buy time in the long run. My aim was not to feel better about myself, but to buy time. I played dumb (What? You are speaking "covertly" about me in front of me??? I have no idea!) and wrote down their behavior for my own analysis and in case I needed to connect it to evidence later. Your advantage over most abusive people will be your ability to plan ahead, predict behavior (because you have observed their trends/patterns of behavior) and think several steps ahead to the future.

Know the Board/Battle Field

In any good strategy game, it is key to know the playing field and terrain. Know what areas are open for you to move to safety, what you can avoid and what you cannot. Use your flexibility to bend what you can bend and move around what you cannot. Know what areas your opponent is not prepared to fight you and try to move him or her to that place. You may even be able to bait them to move their attacks with a fake weakness you create over weeks. They will figure it out eventually, but you will have bought time and gathered more information. Sometimes you can get your opponent to move to attack a fake weakness. This can function to confirm their intentions in that in-between time when you feel you may be insane and are not sure if something is even going on. It can also allow you some breathing time if they were continually attacking a point of agitation.  

But first, you have to realize you are being targeted in the first place. This is difficult because often you find out late in their game. A recent bout I had was difficult to detect because it thrived in a culture of jokes and pranks. It was fun. To start with, those that know me know I tend to take very little personally (even when folks are directly and intentionally insulting). For a long while, I just didn't care and did not read in any malicious intent. However, sometimes the first clues are subconscious. At other times, you just think you are dealing with some other dysfunctional behavior and don't read too much into it. Either way, I still recommend not jumping to conclusions, but looking for prolonged patterns of behavior. Still, if you have grown up in abuse sometimes it is difficult to realize you are in it, even if the person is physically harming you. It may help to just look at the behavior patterns and separate your judgment from it so you can at least see that something is occuring: maybe they fly into fits of rage several times a week and blame you for a messy house that they had a hand in.

Once you have a sense of what is going on, do not try and confront them yourself. Statistically, this seldom works. If you have others who will back you, great! In most of my encounters or in those friends I helped, this was not the case. Still, do not try and just avoid them, they have targeted you and will continue to come after you. And beware of giving the metaphorical Hitler more tiny countries to appease his power lust. They will just keep after you and take more. A relative had her bully constantly trying to take her vacation slot not because she wanted/needed it, but because she didn't want her target to have it knowing it meant a lot to her. It was another means of control. Expect lots of little power plays aimed at making you feel worthless and powerless. Be careful with granting these because they will keep advancing if you give in, but if you fight overtly you will appear petty and unreasonable. 

By virtue of being targeted, you are starting out at a disadvantage. Their object is to destroy you and your object is to survive. Here is the terrain advantage you can know they have going in: 1) They have the element of surprise. If it is not physical abuse or done by a person no one likes, chances are they are good at what they do and it has taken a while to figure out what has been going on unless you are a paranoid disordered person yourself with a thin skin who sees threats under every rock and in every corner.  2) They are attacking you and using unethical means to do so (you are in the position of defense and must remain ethical). 3) They have probably already gotten others on their "side" through gifts, smiles, flattery...etc. Hey, they survived this long without getting the boot. They probably have some sense. And the sad reality is, people usually believe the lie.

Knowing the basics of your position, try and sniff out an outline of your situation including any particulars available. Who is the instigator? This may be several people. They may be difficult to detect since the group will often follow the leader and also try and clobber you. Sometimes you can figure out who the leader is by looking to see who people are constantly trying to please. Don't obsess too much. Know who is friends with who and see if you can win anyone to your side if you are not already too deep in and completely ostracized. Is there anyone trying to help you behind the scenes? How much? Are they friends with the people after you? Are people telegraphing information with awkward silences, pauses, intonation, avoiding eye contact? Are you being iced out? If you are iced out you know that you are now "other" and will probably not receive any basic rights, protections or human contact from them. They all probably "know" you are a horrible person. Try for resources outside of the group icing you out. Avoidance of eye contact often means they are trying not to identify with/empathize with you (but not always). Note this as well and see if you can make eye contact so as to humanize yourself in their eyes. Is anyone trying to help you indirectly? If you find someone like this try and use the tools they throw your way, but cautiously.

Know your own strengths and weaknesses early in the process (you will get disoriented later). They targeted you for a reason, consciously put your talents and abilities toward your survival. They may have the advantage, but statistically, you are probably smarter and more skilled than they are, USE IT. They also feel threatened by your strengths and sometimes you can use them to scare your opponent into exposing information or their moves. Be careful not to antagonize because it will not end well for you. Also, don't get too confident. It is more difficult to defend ethically and survive than destroy unethically.

However, the strength of your opponent's position is often secrecy. They thrive in the shadows and in distortion. Your aim as someone trapped if they will not leave you alone: expose them. Sometimes you can make them overextend their evil behavior into visibility so that you can get the attention of sympathizers (not always, be careful with this one). Also, research some key features of people who do these kinds of predatory behavior (ex: check out the Workplace Bullying Institute). A big weakness your opponent has is that even if intelligent, they are arrogant. Hence the supervillain telling the hero their evil plan or the Riddler giving Batman clues in the first place! Look for mess ups and openings to expose their behavior either in the form of a log, trail (maybe you can find others or there is a record somewhere) or concrete proof. Maybe they will get too bold one day and you can point out their behavior without appearing to directly confront them. It helps to play dumb while you do this. It will only work for so long so choose your moments. Wait and collect information until you have enough so that it is difficult for leadership or others (who may not help by the way) to refute what they are doing or make you out to be crazy or "sensitive."

Try and figure out if this has happened before and what moves the abusive person made. Often they are not terribly creative (just enough) and will do the same thing again. I helped a friend navigate out of being targeted for firing by someone who wanted her job by 1) helping her identify the instigator from the group 2) separating herself from their narrative and 3) identifying his tactic so that she could be prepared the next time around. And he did make the same move again! The first time he did not succeed in getting her fired but did get 2 people to quit in her name, turn her friend against her and embarrass her in front of her leadership (she was his boss). Next time around she hired people with qualities that would not easily turn on her and got in good with them. She was also successfully able to bring up concrete things to her supervisors about this person to get them annoyed with him as well (he really was a bad worker). Basically, she took steps the next round and he ended up getting the boot.

And there you have it, a sampling of what I have gleaned over the years. Again, note that I am not a professional and my advice should be taken with a grain of salt based more from experience and a theology background. My final advice for this post is again, try and leave if you can because if you are not a glutton for punishment, it is just not worth it. Still, if you are going to leave play the game before you can get out.

AQ

The Power of The Cross: A Brief Reflection On Weakness

Antony Micallef
Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel not with wisdom & eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power -1 Cor 1:17

I am a walking contradiction: extremely confident and yet so fearful. It amazes me that I can still be scared after all these years and after all that God has done for, with and in me. Yet, at this point, I do not think it is something to repent of, but an opportunity to realign myself with God's will remembering all that he has done in the past and reorienting towards his future.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

The "solution" is not to cease being afraid as though fear (especially deeply rooted) could be turned off and on, but in meditative trust in the deeds of God in history and being formed in the process. To be specifically vague, I seem to be re-experiencing my history in an odd way except without an anxiety disorder and with the internal resources and faith of an adult who has already passed through the valley of "silent tears" and the death of "unborn hope." I've dealt with a narcissistic projector in the past. It was not fun. I knew the physical toll it would take after months on my body and I knew it would eventually start causing me to slip up in other areas of life whether professionally or getting behind in my personal life. Yet, when I started to slip up and was assumed to be X, I began to despair over it and everything I had lost. 

And then I had to pause and remember the man of sorrows who had been appropriated by the Roman Empire to be a token mockery of a defeated people walks alongside me. The adversary finds power in iconoclasm distorting the images of those who threaten self-perception. What's another offering in what I have come to realize is a lengthy trail? And yet, I worship a crucified savior and the power of the cross is manifest in my weakness. It is in the rich God who became poor so that we could become rich (2 Cor 8:9). Finally, I had to throw up my hands: "God, I am all alone, have been smashed into my adversary's ill image, and am now making stupid mistakes! (I don't like making silly errors especially when stressed)." And yet, Christ is evident in me even in my fear? And even as I descend into incompetence?

In a moment, I felt like the man approached by Jesus after his eyes had been healed and had been thrown out of the synagogue. Its that mix of heartache in isolation as well as wonder that you could finally see after a life of blindness and realization that though alone, you have been approached by Jesus.

Maybe everything is not resolved, but at least it is in perspective as I wait for scene 2...

 

 

When the Sea fades to Land: Reflections on my time at Fuller Seminary

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Well, this post is almost 5 years in the running. Indeed, I can probably trace it back to 2011 when I first began thinking deeply on the things of God (thanks to my then girlfriend). Thusly, this post will be a bit on the rambly side so I hope you'll forgive the indulgence.

Today is the first day of my last course at Fuller Theological Seminary. I'm taking Colossians & Philemon (Greek Text) with Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson. At this moment, I am sitting on my couch in our little studio surrounded by commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles, thinking about heading to the library and doing some reading. I'm also sipping pumpkin spice coffee from Trader Joe's (yea, I know).

When I first started seminary, I took Greek (Dr. Hill at Orange County) and Systematic Theology (Oliver Crisp at Pasadena). I was a part-time student, a full-time worker making (and still making) a nearly 70 mile commute to work, and most importantly a full-time husband. This happened before Fuller made the MAT degree entirely available online (I know, back in the stone age). However, when I started seminary, I had no idea of what I was doing, but I did have some goals and promises.

First, I wanted to know everything I could about Paul. Hence, every exegesis course has been on the Pauline epistles (Philippians, Philemon (2x), Ephesians, Colossians, and Galatians).

My second goal was to see what my gifts were, although this took a long time to ferment into a reality. I never thought I was particularly bright as a kid (I was more of a dreamer, so abstractions and images come more naturally than putting said concepts onto paper), as I was the kid who put on a cape and jumped off the roof to see if I could fly. The best part about that was I thought about trying it again before my younger sister Noell threatened to tell my mom.

A promise I made was with God on my first night in Greek. I do not pray as much as I ought, but I told God this: "just tell me the truth, and then help me live it." I was raised in an environment where seminary was cemetery (my parents never said this; it was more the Calvary Chapel subculture), and if I went to seminary (especially Fuller) I would turn out to be a liberal, or worse, a Democrat (I jest. Mostly). Since starting at Fuller, I've become more conservative in many ways. For instance, I came into Fuller affirming a Deutero-Pauline corpus (Ephesians and the Pastorals). Now, I do not, although I have some reservations of the Pastoral Epistles. I came in disbelieving in inerrancy, and I have shifted greatly on that, affirming something similar to Mike Bird and Kevin Vanhoozer (as I understand them).

When I taught a summer class at my friend Chad's church, we went through New Testament theology, and I was struck by the coherence of the New Testament's witness to Christ. Diverse opinions are not equivalent to divergent opinions, and I grew in my love for New Testament theology broadly conceived.

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In other ways, I have become more solidified in my views. Wesleyanism has become a major theological method that I find deeply compelling, and I affirm what is often called "Christian Perfection," albeit in a modified form. I've also become more confident in my views on the ordination of women, and have become more academically active in that debate (I hate calling it a debate, but it is what it is). A third doctrinal point that has become more strongly held is what is often called Christian Materialism; this will not surprise anyone who knows me.

There are some low points in anyone's seminary experience, but thankfully for me they are quite minor—at least as it regards seminary. During this time, I've lost an uncle and my Aunt and Uncle have been dealing with life-threatening health problems. A friend of mine is having some personal troubles, and Allison has been mistreated by a co-worker. What makes this all bearable is the hope of resurrection, and the promise of life with God.

The highpoints are what I remember most.

I remember deeply enjoying Dr. Love Sechrest's courses on Ephesians and Philippians/Philemon. As a spiritual leader and mentor, Dr. Sechrest really pushed me (and us) into the Greek text and I was challenged to reread a lot of Paul that I had previously skipped over. I also loved that I was the nerd in the class that she expected to say something. As an introvert, this helped push me from my shell a little bit.

A second highlight was reading and studying Jewish literature and Pauline theology in a directed study with Dr. Tommy Givens. Just the vast ocean of literature we read was enough for me to fall deeply in love (again) with Paul. I learned about the Apocalyptic Paul, 1 Enoch, and philosopher's Paul.

A third highlight was sipping wine with Dr. Hagner before a lecture at Chapman. That was a lot of fun.

As I walk now through Fuller's Pasadena campus, the air is cold and crisp, and Fall is coming soon. The leaves rustle, and people meander around, laughing and walking with purpose. Thoughts swirl in my mind about ancient economics, the Golden Rule, principalities and powers, prayers for friends and family, and that academic conference paper I really need to finish.

God willing, should I pass Dr. Thompson's class (hopefully with an A), I will graduate a week or two before Christmas. And then, who knows what will happen. Hopefully a Ph.D in NT in the UK?

I may update this post over the day. Just in case you see this shared multiple times.

Thank you for reading.

Nick

Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation

“But she will be saved (σωθήσεται) by the childbirth (τς τεκνογονίαςτς) [of Christ Jesus], if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. The saying is trustworthy.” --1 Timothy 2:15-3:1a

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Soon I will be giving two presentations based on a longer 35-page paper titled Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation where I will argue that Eve may be viewed as a type of Christ (similar to how Adam is a type in Rom 5 & 1 Cor 15) in 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a. The conferences I will be participating in are: The Duke Graduate Conference in Theology (September 29-30, 2017) and The Interdisciplinary Theology Conference (October 20-21, 2017) arranged by CATA--like ETS--but better. :)

Below is a taste of my upcoming presentations. Enjoy~

Scholarly interaction with the position of Eve in relation to Christology has tended to relegate Eve to an absent, subordinate or implicit position from the standpoint of the typological significance of Adam.[1] For example, Benjamin Dunning describes Paul’s typology as one that tethers together two men, Adam to Christ.[2] The result is a question framed with the assumption of the presence of only a particularly male representation of salvation with an inadvertent question mark when it comes to where a female body fits in the scheme of salvation.[3] That is, the discussion is approached from the standpoint of the assumed presence of Adam and the “problem” of Eve’s placement as a representation of humanity as whole.[4] It is my contention that the difficulty of whether a male Christ can represent humanity is an artificial difficulty conceived with a lens that from the start erases “Eve” (i.e. women)[5] and then either mourns or celebrates her absence.

            It is time to approach Christology and gender from a fresh perspective yet without ignoring the historical exclusion of women on the basis of biblical, primarily Pauline, texts. For this reason, I will be delving into the discussion of how Eve figures Christologically, and may subsequently transfigure our notions of the embodiment of salvation. The question of where “Eve” figures in the theological world both reflects the inner world of worship and has the power to transfigure how one relates to the world as a whole. I will be arguing that far from her being absent—or merely present as an absence—Eve is a type[6] of Christ whose existence serves to undermine the prevailing notion of male domination in the Christological representation of embodied humanity. I will accomplish my thesis by first offering a change in lenses from an emphasis on both historical reconstruction and patriarchy as the frame for understanding Eve’s place in salvation, to the utilization of varied gendered language in the Pauline text to exemplify embodied faith, and how this undermines various gender hierarchies that may be perceived. This thesis will also involve considering the “correspondence” language of the Genesis text, to which Paul appeals, and how early Christian writers used gender language to describe the struggle of faith, embodied existence and future hope. The point here is to provide a plausibility lens or starting point from which to be able to conceive of an Eve Christology and open the doors to re-imagine the place of Eve in our theological world.

Second, I will attempt to launch a uniquely Eve Christology. Far from being absent or implicit, it will be argued that 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a with 2 Corinthians 11:3 offer Eve as a type to Christ (comparable to Adam-Christ typology) and representation of humanity. I will work out how the text understands Christ as a representative of humanity and lastly, briefly wrestle with whether Christ ‘as male’ reinforces gendered power structures or serves to diffuse them. Does the idea that a woman is merely a deformed man who must “become male” to enter into salvation best capture the figures of Adam and Christ presented by these Pauline writings? 

Switching Lenses

How one approaches and/or experiences the larger question of gender in the Christian world will shape what is noticed or goes unnoticed in the Pauline corpus. Does one approach Paul with “a distinctly ancient logic of sexual difference, one that conceptualizes this difference, not in terms of an ontological and incommensurable binary, but rather on a single sliding scale, oriented towards maleness and deeply rooted in variables of status?”[7] Or, does one approach the question of gender and representation from the vantage point of only or primarily passages considered exclusionary making them universally applicable only to women? Does the mention of Adam as a type of Christ in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 suddenly indicate a logical universal such as only Adam or only a men can represent humanity?

It is not my desire to contend there is never the assumption of male priority in the background of the Pauline texts or to argue that everything fits neatly or perfectly into a modern feminist scheme. However, I would like to offer the following interpretive possibility: There exists a unity in diversity in Christ that relativizes power structures which allow for men, in a metaphorical sense, to become women in the context of these structures and women to become men in relation to gendered power structures. This lens which will be used as a starting point for approaching the position of Eve in relation to Christ comes out of the following brief points: 1) gender correspondence language in Genesis, 2) a sampling of Paul’s use of feminine and masculine language in regards to himself and spiritual growth of believer toward their telos in Christ, and 3) how some early Christians used gendered language to describe themselves in relation to Christ.

...the rest will be available at the two upcoming conferences! :)

[1]C.f. Benjamin H. Dunning, Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher's Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

[2] Benjamin H. Dunning, "Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher’s Paul," n.p. [cited June 8, 2017]. Harvard Divinity School. Online: https://hds.harvard.edu/news/2014/10/16/video-christ-without-adam. October 16, 2014: 10-minute mark.

[3] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (Cross Roads: New York, 1983).

[4] C.f. the influence of Mary Daly: "Exclusively masculine symbolism for God, for the notion of divine 'incarnation' in human nature, and for the human relationship to God reinforces sexual hierarchy" in Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston: Deacon Press, 1973), 4. 

[5] From henceforth I will be using Eve as shorthand for women in general in the spirit of her typological significance. Gradually, I will expand this type to encompass humanity in general.

[6]In this article I will be using type in a comparative sense. For example, Eve from the Genesis narrative can be a type of Christ as a representative but not directly in terms of imitation. However, as we will see, Eve can also function as an antitype in the sense that as a representative of women in particular and humanity in general “she” can fulfill her vocation of being formed in the image of Christ connected to the divine telos of humanity. I believe this future looking sense is present in Eve being “pregnant” with the Christ child in 1 Timothy 2:15.

[7] Dunning, Christ without Adam, 18. C.f. Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul, loc 654.

Christology and the Gift of Prevenient Grace: A Look at Titus 2:11

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In thinking through much of John Wesley's teachings and writings, I am often struck by the idea of prevenient grace. Most of my Reformed brothers and sisters find the entire concept to be compelling, but for other reasons offer objections to the doctrine—I find these to be unsatisfying but will leave them aside for the moment only to note anecdotally that there is some significant correspondence between common grace and prevenient grace.

A text that I have been meditating over is Titus 2:11. The Greek text reads as follows:

Ἐπεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις

I have translated it as follows:

"For the Gift of God has apocalyptically revealed [i.e. displayed] the [i.e., his] liberation to all people."

The Greek verb Ἐπεφάνη is regularly used in the LXX (the Greek Old Testament; that is, the Greek translation of the Hebrew, which would have been Paul's primary Bible) to refer to God's revelation of himself to various people (Jacob: Gen 35:7), to Moses and the totality of Israel (Num 6:25), and to show kindness and mercy to the various Psalmists (Ps 31:16, 67:1, 80:3 and others). More citations could be offered, but the point is relatively clear: this verb refers to an apocalyptic unveiling of God's presence and purpose for humanity. God has also revealed himself to people in wrath as well (Rom 1:19): the interplay between "apocalyptic" language and "revelation" language in Rom 1:18-20 strongly suggests that God has been revealed to all people, even the unrighteous in Romans 1 and to the present righteous in Titus 2. There appears, therefore, to be no distinction in God's revelation to all people, as the categories of righteous/unrighteous are Paul's major binary thinking, especially as it relates to his eschatology (c.f. 2 Cor 2:15; 4:3, 9).

What is more controversial or disputed perhaps is the articular use of χάρις ("gift, grace"). Personally, I suspect this may be a reference to Christ, as the capstone of Paul's argument in 2:11-13 is that Christ is both God and Savior, so v.10's reference to "gift" could refer to Christ (c.f. Titus 1:4), who is perhaps described as a gift elsewhere in Paul (c.f. Eph 3:8 and 4:7; Rom 3:24; 2 Cor 8:9; plus the ending benedictions of most of Paul's epistles include χάρις and Christ). This is not a major point, but it might be a substantial one if I am correct. Or, perhaps as likely, the use of σωτήριος is itself the gift to all people. It may even be both.

In any sense, this "liberation" (see λυτρώσηται in v.14 as well) has been apocalyptically revealed "to all people" (taking the dative in its most normative sense). The use of ἀνθρώποις is generic, referring to the mass of humanity, and is thus not necessarily restricted to a specific group. This is consistent with Wesleyan theology, which specifies the need for all people to repent and join the family of God.

Some disagree. Thomas Schreiner ("Does Scripture Teach Prevenient Grace?" in Still Sovereign) is perhaps representative when he writes:

Titus 2:11 says that God's grace has been manifested through Christ's work on the cross, but it does not say that God has thereby supplied the ability to believe to all people. Wesleyans conclude from the atonement effected by Christ that enough grace has been imparted to all people so that they can now choose whether or not to believe. But it is precisely this point that is not taught explicitly in the verse. It does not necessarily follow that since grace was manifested in the death of Christ that all people as a result have the ability to believe in him.

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Schreiner seems to miss the point on multiple counts. First, the verse is not exclusively about the atonement, but about the revelation of God in Christ (vv.11-14). Liberation and atonement surely correspond but we must be careful to not reduce this verse to atonement theology. Second, a mistaken matter of logic seems to be at work in Schreiner's brief commentary on this verse: if one assumes that a verse is limited entirely and exclusively to the text, and does not address any other issues within the text, then the text itself cannot be said to speak "explicitly." One is then forced to ask, "How explicit must the text be for you?" Evangelical theology is predicated upon asking the proper questions of the text of Sacred Scripture, and not excluding questions that arise from a natural reading of the text. Theological interpretation is key here.

Third, and perhaps most problematic, is the assumption of "ability" on the part of Schreiner. Many Reformed theologians seem to assume that "ability" is in view here, but that places the exegesis of the text backward: what is the purpose of revelation (especially an apocalyptic revelation) if not to reveal the eternal Son of God as an impetus for belief and confession and submission? Take for instance the Christ-Hymn in Philippians 2:5-11, which assumes that people's bowing the knee to Christ's exaltation is predicated on his resurrection! The imperatival nature of New Testament ethics does not necessitate that all human beings are able to respond to the apocalyptic revelation of God in Christ, but the inability does not suggest the opposite: that we are prohibited from recognizing our own need for liberation in Christ. A slave may recognize that he or she is a slave and believe in Christ, but that does not automatically free them from bondage: such is the need for Christ's reconciliation and salvation for all people. Of course, one might ask what the purpose of revealing what God desires ("perfection," see Matthew 5) if it is merely an ideal that does not demand pursuit: simply put, I do not think God gives laws and commands simply to show that people are sinful, but they are given because people are sinful and need a Savior.

Therefore, God has revealed his liberation to all people, unveiling the mystery of his plan for liberating all people (1 Tim 3:16). All people are witness to this resurrection power, and all are called to repentance, awaiting the "blessed hope and the grandeur of the glory of our great God and Liberator Jesus Christ" (v.13). Even the wicked acknowledge God (Titus 1:16) but in action/works, they deny him (ἀρνοῦνται). This assumes that participation in Christ is no mere mental acquiescence, but fully engaging and participating in the life of God's calling.

Does Titus 2:11 teach prevenient grace? It seems most likely, given Paul's theology and the immediate context that the Wesleyan reading is the best interpretive option, and the objections do not stand. So, yes: this text is a sufficient prooftext in support of the doctrine of Prevenient Grace. Thus, the revelation of God in Christ illustrates that all people are, by consequence, to not only submit to God in the totality of their being, but to live lives of "good works" as opposed to people who chose to participate in evil, suffering, and self (1:15-16).

NQ

Resisting Evil: Pt. 1 "Forgiveness" Versus Stepping Out in Faith

Be still, and know that I am God:
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
Yahweh of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.” Psalm 46:10-11

In my latest post titled Seeing Christ in The Dark I primarily reflected on how to live within and through the reality of evil in light of God's reality. One of my basic claims was that evil does not have meaning in itself, but does in the context of God's reality. God's reality fundamentally transforms our perceptions of the world and the evil around us. In this vein, I reflected on how the biblical world formed me through and in the midst of physical and psychological violence.

Now I turn to the topic of resisting evil within God's world. I approach this topic not from a triumphalist vantage point, but from the reality of having been crushed, unheard, and slandered to the extent that in my young heart I could not picture anything different in this life. But I also come as a beautiful work in progress by the crucified Christ who walks twisted paths with me. His life vivifies the present and, in him, anything is possible including the idealism this engenders.

Because God is with us, I encourage everyone to stand against evil to the degree they are able and be committed to suffering the consequences of it. And there most undoubtedly will be consequences. I also advocate a do or die attitude when it comes to standing up for yourseld and others making you a more formidable opponent. I like to think of it through the metaphor of my time in Judo class. In Judo practice you get slammed into the ground at high speeds constantly and you must keep getting up. Sometimes there is a sort of victory or defiance even in being committed to getting up when others would bury you or the person you wish to defend. 

However, a word of caution. "Resistance" can also take a variety of forms depending on one's place in the world. I have been in situations where I have had to simply exist in a social system or situations where I was constantly beaten down without any hope of coming out of it for years. The future was dark and bleak except for God entering into my situation and forming me in the process. I have also been in situations where I could overtly go against the grain. The Bible acknowledges both of these realities giving different directions on how to live in each (More on this in later posts). My general advice is to navigate the world skillfully (wisdom) and take a stand whenever you can and it makes sense to, committing yourself to the repercussions whether in the form of social ostracization, extreme stress or physical punishment. 

Additionally, for some, the conviction that one must resist evil may be functionally squelched in favor of a disposition where one always gives the benefit of the doubt to others--no matter what they actually do or who they hurt! This way of thinking tends towards putting huge burdens on victims to come around to the perpetrator's way of seeing things and tends to deny reality or sweep it under the rug (can't we all just get along?). Or, on the other end of the spectrum resistance is all-encompassing without space for other kingdom values. Whenever one feels slighted they think they must resist without mitigating it with the idea of turning the other cheek, not seeking revenge or even considering they themselves might be mistaken. As a general rule, I do my best not to assume malicious intent. If I see troubling patterns I take note but do not jump to conclusions. 

Now that I have introduced the general topic of discussion: resisting evil, I now turn (out of necessity) to that nagging imperative ever present in the evangelical consciousness when it comes to victims of crimes and slights alike--forgiveness. They may not know you well, but they know you must have a problem with it. What follows will be a consideration of what forgiveness is not, is and how one can resist evil by resisting shallow conceptions of it and by truly practicing it!

I. The Dark Side of Forgiveness (Narrowly Defined)

A. "Forgiveness" = Letting It Go?

Forgiveness, narrowly defined, is often weaponized against victims and those wronged. It is a tool that functions (whether intended or not) to silence and retain the status quo. It may not even truly be forgiveness the "teacher" is requiring of the person. In my direct experience, "forgiveness" equated with "letting it go" is often used as a tool to silence victims and often enables or embolden evil behavior (i.e. one can do whatever they want and be guaranteed the victim and everyone else's cooperation afterward). It also functions to prolong a victim's suffering and piles on unnecessary guilt. There must be something wrong with me because I am still devastated and angry.

Back when I was healing from physical abuse and warped perceptions, everyone would ask me over and over again if I had forgiven X. They assumed without evidence that: 1) I needed to forgive, 2) my primary need was to forgive, 3) I had this primary moral responsibility/burden because I was violated. They also assumed that because said abusive person and I had a highly shallow and distant relationship that it was evidence of my lack of forgiveness rather years of realization that said the person would continue to harm me and no meaningful relationship was possible. Somehow though, it was my "responsibility," having been abused over many years, to continually try and initiate unhealthy relationships.

"Have you forgiven him or her" is almost a knee jerk response in Evangelical circles. It is almost as though people can't help themselves. Even if they are savvy or compassionate enough to not make it the first thing that comes out of their mouth, it must come up! Now that I am 30 years old I know the drill. If something horrible happens to me I know to expect the following: 1) Someone will imply or directly tell me of my need to forgive, 2) I will have had it coming somehow even if the group denounces the action against me and 3) If I go against the grain or challenge the initial action it is very possible everyone else will turn on me for it. It is like walking through the airport at this point. You are in line, you see it coming and you start taking off your shoes, but not socks, take your laptop out of the bag and put it in its separate bin...etc. Basically, know what to expect and have a plan of attack.

If you are victimized, recognize this knee jerk response for what it is and move past it. Meaning, take a breath and understand it is their insecurity or weakness, not a reflection of your issues. If Jesus himself stood before them with holes in his hands and feet they would have asked him if he forgave his tormentors! If you are able, challenge it. If not, be polite, but do not internalize it. Having dealt with this evangelical characterization since childhood, I always know it will come up anytime I am significantly wronged or anytime I share my testimony involving abuse and am quite comfortable confronting it. It gets very easy over the years and usually the other person really just never thought of it from another angle before. They may not even know what to do when you calmly explain to them that you disagree with their definition of forgiveness and merely need to protect yourself from person X and harbor no ill will towards them.

Really, no one likes drama and in the aftermath, unfortunately, it is the victim alone who is often left to pick up the scattered pieces of themselves. When someone shares they have been raped, abused or bullied it causes tension and people do not always know what to do since something has occurred outside of acceptable limits creating disequilibrium. The victim who is still processing and navigating it is often treated as an additional and current disruption since the event already happened in the 30-second "past." And yet, they are living more vividly in the present than everyone else out of no choice of their own. Why can't the victim just "let it go?"

My advice from years of Bible study and personal encounters: Identify the reflex for jumping to "forgiveness" for what it is: Victim blaming. They see you or the person hurt as problematic or in need of moral guidance because they can't or do not wish to deal with the reality of what happened. Sometimes it is merely because they equate being "over something" with forgiveness and if you are angry, sad or unreconciled then you must not have forgiven and must need them to point it out to you. Sometimes they cannot imagine that one can go through what you did and easily pardon. Or perhaps cannot comprehend a full pardon within the tension of respecting oneself as loved by God and refusing to put yourself in harm's way again.

B. Resist their Paradigm

If you can, politely resist the requirement to forgive from the outside and all it entails (unless of course you have gone through an extended healing process and are still embittered and entertain vengeful thoughts). However, know that what you are doing is going against a narrative that says: because you were wronged, you have a moral responsibility and/or culpability. You are not responsible for having a good relationship with perpetrators and restitution is their job, not yours. Some of this surfaces in cases where women get severely battered by husbands (maybe their nose gets broken). They divorce him and yet are seen as the marriage covenant breakers rather than formalizing a covenant already broken (in the OT a woman whose life is threatened by neglect by her husband has grounds for a divorce). They are thought to be the ones in the wrong and are often told to go back and submit to the abuse or that they are obligated to get the relationship back on track--all couched in the rhetoric of forgiveness and wifely duty.

In the end, sometimes you may suffer more consequences by resisting their knee jerk reaction to assign you additional responsibility. Everyone in a group may try and gather around and pressure you to be in a relationship with an abuser and if you struggle with an anxiety disorder it means you may end up having to relive the moment some more because people keep bringing it up. Or, you could have to have your character smeared because you are now also "unforgiving and bitter." Maybe everyone will pity you because you do not recognize the error of your ways.

Maybe you have already forgiven the other person? Maybe you need to process the evil first so that it is named before you can forgive it? Maybe you are in flight or fight and just need to survive in the moment? At the end of the day, It's really not mostly anyone's business.  If you know you are in an unsafe context and there are no resources to protect you, you have a decision to make: do you say anything?

Whatever you chose, do not let "forgiveness" be weaponized. Challenge the paradigm outwardly if you are able. Or, at the very least, understand that forgiveness is your God-given birth right and is not to be equated with your silence, a fake smile, cheap substitute for healing or zen state of non-caring. Also, I recommend expecting and being ready for someone to bring up the issue of forgiveness. It will happen. It happened to me just recently after I almost finished this post. I was beginning to think no one was going to bring it up and was genuinely surprised. NOPE.

If you notice someone doing this to someone else, I suggest politely saying something like: "I understand you mean well [name], but there is no reason to think she struggles with forgiveness." Then quickly transition to acknowledging what the person wronged brought up and engage them on the subject matter rather than this other person's speculation about their character. If you can help redirect the conversation back where it should be, you will have resisted a victim blaming tendency and put the focus back where it needs to be: naming the sin and recovery for the one wronged. Of course, if the person wronged goes back to the issue of forgiveness that is a good thing and their choice. 

Finally, resist and do not accept apologies that are not genuine if you can survive without them. Sometimes people demand that you pretend their sin was other than it was in the form of apology. When you listen closely and their apology it may sound a lot like "you had it coming because of X," or "there are many different interpretations...I'm sorry you felt that way...etc." Don't do it! Don't accept the apology! We are taught as young children to reply, "I forgive you" when a playmate is insincere. I have heard many sincere and insincere apologies in life. I have stopped accepting insincere ones. Why? I belong to Christ and for their sake and recognizing my own value in God alone, I will not pretend. Forgive regardless of their insincerity again and again as many times as they wrong you, but if you can help it, do not play their game and pretend. Stand up straight and see them for who they are. The Bible has a lot to say on loving your enemies and praying for those who curse you even being overly generous towards them! Also be generous with the truth.

II. The Bright Side of Forgiveness: Forgiveness in God's World

Concretely, forgiveness is recognizing the sin, but not taking vengeance against the person(s) who did you wrong or harbor extended bitterness towards them. For example, there is a good friend of mine whose job was coveted by a wealthy coworker who conspired to get her fired and almost succeeded. He managed to turn all her other co-workers against her even a friend who became fixated on somehow finding "equal responsibility" since two people were involved. He even charmed those above her for a while. In the end, she managed out on top (sort of). She is still recovering from the horrific event, but God's reality is evident in her life because she had the opportunity on multiple occasions to sabotage one of the people who smeared her and she didn't--even as that person was still actively trying to sabotage her! That is God at work. Forgiveness does not equal "letting it go" or healing or reconciling, or trusting (except in God), but in acknowledging sin without holding it against the person. These other things may or may not follow from forgiveness along with time and a safe context.

Forgiveness may be given and then need to be given again if the other person wrongs you again or you find yourself falling back into patterns of bitterness or vengeful thoughts. In time, forgiveness, depending on the wrong and level of sanctification, may just become a state of being coming out of the overflow of your love for God and all he has done for you 70x7 regardless of a sincere apology. Jesus declared "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." God offered forgiveness to all of us through Jesus on the cross (while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly) while we rebelled against him...and yet we do not all accept the offer.

Desire goodwill, but do not be deluded. Where possible reflect God's society by being reconciled, and where impossible protect yourself and navigate your unique setting with wisdom identifying those who will continue to harm you and those who won't. For those who won't let God's kingdom reality be evident through you, hold no grudges as you protect yourself. Be patient with yourself when you do not show proper deference, but strive towards it none-the-less. Still, forgiveness does not bow the knee, it pardons on a personal level (not institutional/legal). In everyday life, this means avoiding trash talking those who have trash talked you wherever possible. It means acting generously towards those that wronged you whether it is in defending them when they need to be defended (and are in the right), or it means not taking those opportunities that present themselves to act in kind (doing so is a sin against God). It also means ignoring many small slights and giving freely where it does not involve funding their sin further.

III. The God of the Impossible

I love C.S. Lewis' description of this reality in The Great Divorce. In it, one could take a bus ride from hell into heaven, but without guarantee, one will like it or want to stay. In it, a man is indignant because he discovers in heaven his loved one and the murderer of that loved one getting on as the best of friends without any care. In heaven, it is a natural relationship, but truly bizarre from other vantage points. I love this description because it portrays our future (not necessarily present). I believe we can reflect this reality just a little bit by letting the love that God has kindled in us continue to grow so that our heart leans fully in this direction towards this future. Lean towards this reality, but do not pretend this reality. Life is a series of tears and broken pieces and sometimes there must be a crucifixion before the resurrection.

God is indeed the God of the impossible. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Because God has not held our wrong doing over our heads but has shown us his abundant love we can certainly show this towards others. Sometimes we are wronged significantly, and yet sometimes the other person acknowledges it fully, are horrified by their actions and pledge to never do it again. Recognize the manifestation of the Spirit wherever He is, even eagerly go looking for Him like someone in love. Know that We could easily be in this situation ourselves of needing forgiveness. This is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, to move forward and restart new. This is one of those good things God has prepared ahead of time for you. Take it and be delighted with it! Do not feel superior because it is a gift from God to you. See Christ in them and be compelled with joy to be a small part of God's work in the world, being thankful. Act as though the wrong has never occurred where possible.

And sometimes all you can do is also refrain from evil. Forgive regardless of their insincerity again and again as many times as they wrong you, but if you can help it, do not play their game and pretend.

IV. Forgiveness Is Stepping Out In Faith

To forgive is to be vulnerable within the context of God's power. But in order to forgive one must oppose evil. Evil must be named for what it is and sometimes pardoned by one from a lowly position (the wronged). It means standing squarely against the powers of darkness, sanitized narratives, and those who believe violence requires violence and insults demand insults. It recognizes God's reality in the person doing evil and their potential in Christ. Often it means, though all appearance to the contrary, that you know God is present and at work reconciling the world. You can be a small part of it and represent his good will to others. This snatches power away from the perpetrator, evil within and from without and looks up to the Lord. It is the process of walking (as though a baby taking her first steps) through the waves and saying, "God, I am undividedly yours." It is being still in the midst of turmoil and acknowledging God is God.

Evil persists where it is not illuminated and exposed for what it is. In Ephesians, we are called children of the light. Be in close relationship with God and you just may be put in situations to expose evil. Evil that is exposed by the light, becomes light and this is a testament to God's power when you can expose it. Don't be surprised either if God acts on your behalf either! Once the night before I was compelled to pray for a situation by the Spirit and was told to step out in faith when I saw the icon of Peter meeting Jesus on the water. Bewildered I wrote in my journal: "I guess I will know what that means when the time comes???" The next day I had to make a difficult choice and saw it. It's enough to say events took a drastic turn. 

In line with my post on Seeing Christ in the Dark, I conceive of forgiveness and exposing evil as part of walking through evil, not in pushing it mentally away or ignoring its twisted reality or danger. It is our duty as believers to resist evil at every turn, illuminating it and exposing it for what it is according to our capacity. This is a worshipful endeavor that is part of our vocational calling to love and holiness representing God on earth. In this vein, forgiveness itself (though not exclusively) can also be an act of resistance against the powers that be. We belong to a different social and political system called the Kingdom of God that is breaking into our present and as such our priorities and dispositions must at times go against our context. They want us to be silent? We won't. They want us to take vengeance or turn the tables of power to our benefit? We refuse. As heirs of God's kingdom and image bearers representing God on earth we get to walk in forgiveness manifesting God's reality.

Forgiveness is a kingdom reality embedded in the reality of the transformative work of Christ in, around and through us. The world may require vengence or complacency, but we can step out in faith, joining Christ on the water despite the danger because we know who he is and who we are in him.

 

Until next time.

-AQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still, watch your back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did Paul think 'Taxation is Theft?' Some Thoughts on Politics and Romans 13

Aside from being a fun slogan that I enjoy employing from time to time, I am struck by the near constant debate concerning the issue of Christianity and politics, especially since the election of Donald Trump. Money talks these days, and he's certainly doing a lot of talking.

Right before we begin by praising the authorities of Romans 13, we must remember that we are to "be at peace" (εἰρηνεύοντες) with all people in 12:18. I am not going to suggest that the traditional understanding of the "authorities" in Romans 13 is wrong, but I am going to suggest that Paul has contextual reasons for saying what he says in Romans 13.

Paul lays out several items of what Christians in Rome were to do:

12:19 – "Do not take vengeance for yourselves" (μὴ ἑαυτοὺς ἐκδικοῦντες)

12:19 – "God remembers and executes vengeance," not you

12:20 – "Feed your enemy and give them hospitality"

The Roman Christians likely had no choice but to pay their taxes, but they had the choice of being hospitable to their enemies. Vengeance belongs to God, and as Paul's citation of Psalm 25:22 (LXX) states similarly, "For by doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will repay you for good." Any notion of human violent resistance is subverted, and God is the one who will "repay." Plus, any attempt by a tiny minority against the imperial power of Rome would surely end up failing. What are fifty people versus ten thousand trained soldiers?

Paul also believed that the "authorities" and "powers" (Rom 13:1) were going to be destroyed by God in the end (1 Cor 15:20-28). God's power in vengeance is God's alone, not ours (Rom 12:19). Therefore, be good to your enemies by feeding them and giving them drinks. The fleeting nature of empire, even in decay (as Romans 1:18-32 suggests, as a 'decline of empire' motif), so the nature of being "subordinated" to the "authorities" is expected, especially as a people following a man executed by this same empire.

Christian non-violence, then, appears to be the idea behind Paul's own commentary in ch12, and the practical outworking of Romans 13 is both a rhetorical attempt to convey the sovereignty of God over the empire, and the "fullness of the law" being "love" (Romans 13:11).

So, it seems for Paul, "taxation is theft," but Paul's cosmic idea of Christ defeat of the rulers, principalities and powers subverts the rule and reign of Caesar. The triumph of love (vv.8-11) is at the heart of Paul's ethic here. Similarly, the community that pays taxes removes any potential violence on the part of the state, and even the ethical commands of v.13 ("do not…") are predicated on the supremacy of the risen Messiah (13:14), as opposed to the early King who fades in time.

Perhaps, by paying taxes, Paul is ultimately fulfilling the rhetoric of Christ in Luke 20:22: Caesar's coin is meaningless, because Caesar is not king. The political nature of "paying taxes" was subverted because of Christ's politics: Caesar has no currency in the Kingdom.

Similarly, Luke 23:2 seems to suggest that Jesus did not favor taxation (same word for "taxes" and tribute as in Romans 13). This is joined with the idea of Christ being "King." The difference between Paul and Jesus in this event was Paul had to fulfill the Great Commission, and if they did not pay taxes, perhaps they would be exterminated.

Is taxation theft? For Paul, probably. Is it a necessary reality in a world governed by Powers? For Paul, probably.

Just my two cents.

NQ

Seeing Christ in the Dark: Contemplating Evil in Its Context

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

--Romans 8:28-29

Hierapolis, photographer Burak Kinacilar

Hierapolis, photographer Burak Kinacilar

I have had a lot of time to reflect on evil over the years and from an early age. What comes to mind for me are the years of violence and abuse with all the personal and systemic helplessness that came with being a child, as well as periodic encounters with people over the years whether it involved bullying, sexism, gossip or other forms of control. 

Of course, everyone's experience is different, and yet most of us are drawn to ask some version of "How we can live in such an evil world if a good God exists?" My goal here is to offer some brief theological and personal reflections on how to put evil in its proper context as a Christian and to see evil in the world not as necessary for good, but understanding that even in its ability to negate and twist, there is an occasion for us all to live out our vocation to become like Christ. That is, to become the person of the resurrection. This means contemplatively and prayerfully walking through evil in the world rather than ignoring it, pretending it is tame or simply trying to banish it from one's mind in order to delude oneself with happy thoughts. I will also consider practically the ethics of how we should perceive and treat those who do evil things in our daily lives. 

In The Moment

In the moment when something violent is happening or perhaps one is merely threatened socially (which can be devastating), often a flight or fight response kicks in. You either freeze or try and fight it off in some way. There is, of course, much that can be said about calling the police or protecting yourself via other channels (and I encourage you not to be their "sacrificial lamb"), but when it comes to the formation aspect of it, it helps to begin by being mindful of God's presence and knowing that all ultimate authority belongs to God who sees the other person's wrong doing. This is important as often these lines can become blurred depending on the abusive person, your own inclination to find fault with yourself or a societal tendency to blame the victim (ex: she was dressed that way that is why she was raped or you should have been more careful walking home alone at night). The evil is outside not inside and it is important not to internalize their creepy or violent behavior.

Also, being mindful of Christ's presence in those moments is in my experience more a matter of years of formation than manifesting in a moment of recollection. If you practice remembering God in all that you do, you may very well remember him in the moment when your body is flooded with that fight or flight response. For some, it has even helped them collect themselves and deal with the situation in the moment, for others it is a matter of being comforted. I watched one documentary where a woman who was abducted who ended up plotting and fighting against the man who said he would rape and kill her remembered to simply ask God for help. In a moment of extreme danger, she knew God was not only present but that he might help her. Yet we all know that God does not always intervene and it can be hurtful to have horrible things happen with no help in sight. For another woman who was nearly beaten to death by her husband, it helped her stay conscious for long enough to be rescued. But not everyone is rescued and how to escape danger is not the reason for this post. Rather, it is about understanding your world as it truly is: both under the dominion of evil but also belonging to the ever present God who holds all the universe together and sustains it.

When it is difficult to pray because your anxiety is so high and your head is swimming, it is helpful knowing that God knows where you are and is present with you. A simple "help" sometimes suffices. God is not a God that requires many words and I think sometimes we feel pressured by others to practice our articulation skills at the wrong time. I believe that what God loves is a person whose heart is directed towards and open to him no matter what is happening to them, good or bad. An open heart will also constantly be asking and searching for what God desires from them in the situation: A kind word when harassed? A reassertion of one's own God-given value? Resisting them at every turn? A prayer for oneself and one's enemy? Silence? Reframing from striking back? Maybe only baby steps...

How to act concretely: my advice is also not to feel like you have to make yourself chipper or act happy unless you need to in order to survive. It also does not mean giving in to them or enabling their sin further. When you have something done to you, remember THEY are the sinner. You can take this as an opportunity for character formation, but perspective is important so that you as their victim are not burdened with making sure you are nice. It does mean, however, 1) showing the respect due to another also loved by God, 2) showing basic kindness (does not mean being their friend or playing their game). 3) This also may involve protecting yourself when you need to and cutting losses when you need. Recognize that sometimes the ultimate loss is in doing the evil (being turned away from God) not in concrete loss. And, You are not called to be "nice" but to represent Christ. Jesus did not look the other way regarding sin, but he did look on others with love. If you can make baby steps in these things in difficult times then you grow that much more for the future.

Inhabiting God's World

A big part of how one responds in the moment or the aftermath is seeing that we inhabit God's world. We all inhabit sacred space, even if God is not fully manifest in the moment. Our hope is ultimately in God's future and believing what we do in the here and now matters in an eschatological sense even when we do not always see God in the moment. For example, Job's suffering had significance beyond his life under the sun and even though the adversary set up situations to test him, he remained true to God. Yes, God corrected him by adding to his understanding what he did not know about God, but yes God also vindicated him and recognized Job as his own. Show yourself to belong to God in your daily life.

We are able to see Jesus in our fear and understand the evil that is threatening us with an additional context. It is not a denial of reality, but seeing more in it. It is understanding that one is clothed with Christ and engaged in a battle that is not against flesh and blood (i.e. it's not all about the person doing the evil), but instead looking ahead toward the telos (end goal) of our faith: glorification as we are transformed into the image of Christ, even through fire. There is power in seeing more in your evil context than your adversary is able to.

We can also see ourselves being called out to Jesus who is walking on the waves and even though perhaps afraid, step out and walk towards him marveling that we can step out on the water because he works in us and marveling that our inner person cannot be touched by the danger around us. Again though, this is not a denial of reality. The waves are dangerous and you could drown. However, God is more powerful than the waves and so ultimately you are kept with Christ.

With regards to people who do evil things (aka the waves), I often find some well-wishers are inclined to give bad advice and ask us to try and take their perspective (FYI sociopaths have very interesting rationalizations for why so and so had it coming), or to assume the best. That is, do not whitewash their faults. See the ill intentions, distortions or ignorance for what they are as much as humanly possible. If someone is showing signs of instability or ill intentions, take notes quietly, but do not judge them and don't jump to conclusions about their character until you know enough (leave it to God to decide if they are redeemable or will not be). Further, if they do something to you physically or otherwise, protect yourself. Love does not delude. If you only love someone because you have convinced yourself you should excuse their behavior or that it really is not so bad, then you love a figment. It is better to go in with your eyes open morally and practically. Basically, do not bow to evil people--stand up like Mordecai and do not become a Haman in the process.

Allow God to enter into that space in your mind that can otherwise be turned to bitterness and think: one day thy kingdom come thy will be done. Take this moment to dedicate yourself anew to God's promises and recall the transient nature of this life. At times when you are feeling hopeless remember, this is just a moment, a breath and that everything that is not of God in your self and others will be burned away and what is pure will be left. Even if true destruction is happening (psychological or physical), let it also be a time of personal purification and transformation. If your reputation has been damaged, remember Christ is your inheritance, he sees all and will make everything known one day. In John 11:25 Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life and the one who believes in him will live, even if they die. I think you can apply this mentality to the reality of having to live with the aftermath of evil as well. Your body may be twisted and you may suffer psychological damage, but that need not be all you are left with.

The Aftermath

Then there is that lovely aftermath. The initial event has happened and now you are left with its effects, or maybe it is still happening? I had to live with PTSD and damage to my body for quite some time all while constantly being told to stand up straight by the person that more than likely injured my back in the first place! Something that has helped me in the past (and present!) is to take spiritual and mental resources with me and insert them in those dark places in my mind. For example, when I would be in the middle of a PTSD attack it would be like I was there. I would see the attacker's angry face, feel their hand around my neck or gripping my arm or neck tightly, slamming me against the wall or smacking me in the face. I would also see the walls of the area I would hide in sometimes to get away from them. There would also be the familiar terror in the moment and feeling emotionally everything I felt then: the anxiety, the threat, the dread, and hope of not being found. As an adult (I didn't get any help until college), it helped when I started imaging something else into the moment that perhaps physically was not there, but on another level was. For me there was a painting I did while worshipping and praying to God: it is a crucifixion scene, but with vibrant colors and directionally uplifting towards God. I had named it "Resurrection." I would image that painting into that mental space integrating God's narrative of future hope into the situation. It helped me to walk through the trauma and not be caught in repeating cycles of a one-sided ugly reality. Today I remember what happened to me clearly but they are memories and not ever present realities. If you are recovering from trauma or trying to process a bad day it might help you to find your own way of recognizing God in the moment, perhaps with a personal symbolic object of your own whether real or invented.

If you are facing hostility or exclusion at work or church (overt or covert) for your beliefs, gender/ethnicity, random targeting, someone's insecurity or desire to get ahead...etc know that in the gospels you are one of the people Jesus sat and ate with and called a child of Abraham (everyone else called them sinners). Further, the evil you are experiencing is not senseless. It is not senseless because there is another layer of reality that gives the evil a meaning it does not and cannot otherwise have on its own.

Evil is not necessary for good or glorification (even if hardship is). We were not meant for an evil warped world. At the same time, we can see God at work in us and through us when times are at their worst. Sometimes it means just being open to God's call and works when in the middle of the storm and being willing to step out of the boat keeping your eyes fixed on Christ so that you do not see the waves that are trying to kill you. It is also realizing that even with evil in the world this is but a moment in time, a breath, compared to what is ahead. Evil is part of a forward at the beginning of a book with God's beginning, chapter 1 yet to unfold. We are all part of God's story and the story of one another. We are inexplicably connected and placed in positions to be sources of strength, encouragement and untold goodness to those around us. Sadly, we do not always live out our calling and do these great things. Those that more than fail to do these things have lost something in God's economy.

Evil has meaning as part of God's narrative of love and it has meaning when it is commandeered for God's purposes, not on its own. It is in Corrie ten Boom forgiving her Nazi captor and in her resisting the evil system by hiding Jews or running church services for the other Jews and Christians in the concentration camp. It is in the person who sees value in the person trying to actively harm them and equally in the one who resists the person assigning them a place below what God intended by turning them in, going to the police or otherwise exposing them. If imaging Christ is our vocation and goal in life, then all else is not erased or rationalized (maybe God allowed my baby daughter to die a horrific death to teach me a lesson/maybe evil is a blessing in disguise), but it is reframed. Its context or backdrop, God's world, is revealed in negation and it cannot escape. God fills our world with himself and we can either follow his way or oppose him in his presence. Yet, in the most hopeless circumstances with the power of the Spirit working in us, we can be shaped towards our vocation of love in Christ, the sign that we belong to God, our inheritance and hope for the future.

What follows is not the purpose of this post, but it is the ever real possibility available to us because we inhabit God's world and because we are being formed into the image of Christ:

Since evil is reframed in the reality of Christ and we have power in his resurrection life that affects the here and now, we can certainly love, forgive and pray for those who hurt us! These are not always immediate. Too often in the Christian community, we attack those who are being crushed or are recovering from trauma with an added moral requirement of forgiveness. Sadly, empathy, compassion, and safety (mental health included!) come after a knee jerk reaction to ask if they have forgiven X person! It says that we value the aggressor over the person hurt by them. Jesus opposed the powerful and sat with and healed the suffering.

When one is ready (it may be sooner rather than later depending on the level of trauma and/or sanctification), forgive and pray for your adversary. Pray for their healing and the renewing of their heart and mind alongside your prayers for vindication and salvation. Be kind where it will not put you in harm's way (though there are those extraordinary circumstances where you will put yourself in harm's way for the Gospel) and do not seek revenge. Tactically, we are at a disadvantage here in not responding in kind (fewer maneuver options), but ultimately we gain more by refraining and instead, praying. Yet, DO oppose their evil behavior boldly as a representative of Christ. DO expose them if able. DO be smart and calculate your own losses. You are dearly loved by God. Selfishness is in choosing yourself at the expense or harm of others, NOT in defending yourself from their evil. If someone slights you, turn the other cheek, if they actively hunt and exploit you and you can get out of it, follow Paul's sentiment towards slaves in 1 Corinthians 7 and get your freedom if you are able!

The Bible does not answer our questions for why the wicked prosper, but it does pose the question and it does tell us how to both mourn and be hopeful as well as live within this question. And best of all, it does tell us that the first chapter is only one more page over from the forward.

-AQ

On Homer Simpson Hermeneutics: Egalitarian Marriage, Last Names, and a Response to Andrew Klavan

I have been listening to Andrew Klavan's podcast since Episode 1—I've enjoyed his books, his lectures, and much of his work on the podcast. I find him culturally interesting and quite likable. This opening is not a bit of honey to butter up Andrew (should he read this); rather it is a serious and truthful comment about a podcast I am subscribed to, even though I have not paid my $8 a month: my life is pretty good all things considered, so I do not need my life changed, even if it might be for the better. I recall a brief back-and-forth I had with Andrew on twitter about what I perceived to be a lack of nuance regarding the use of language concerning 'feminism.' But, I enjoyed the exchange and moved on. However, I was quite troubled by the rather shallow theological commentary Andrew offered today. Let me give the full context.

In episode 340, Andrew took the time to answer one final question and the person (Richard?) asked the following (time stamp: 35:00-36:50):

Dear Supreme Leader Klavan…my long-time girlfriend and I are planning on getting married next year after deciding it is time to have children. However, she is undecided on whether or not she wants to take my last name. What are your thoughts on this topic, perhaps you could help me [Richard] to convince her?

Now, to provide some context before I respond to Andrew's words; when my wife and I got married, I decided fairly early on that I would take her last name. I wrote a bit about that entire journey in Mutuality magazine so I won't rehash all of it here. Needless to say, I was fairly confident where Andrew would go with his answer, but I've been surprised before.

This time I was not surprised.

I won't quote the entirety of Andrew's comments, as I would be here all night and, frankly, I worked a 10-hour day and I am exhausted.

Andrew said:

I strongly believe in taking your husband's name for a number of reasons, the most politically incorrect one of which—which has never stopped me from saying anything before—is I do believe in a leadership role for husbands and fathers, I do believe that you are taking over the leadership from a father…

Become a family, become a new family. That's what you are doing, you are becoming a new family, a new family has a name—I think it should be the name of the husband. If you got to make one up then make one up, but become a family…do not dwell in the past, become one flesh, have a new family.

Much could be written in response, but the first item worth noting is that Andrew does not actually offer justification for his view. I am assuming, if he has a Bible verse in mind, that he is thinking about Ephesians 5.

However, if one looks to Ephesians 5:18-33 for the language of "leading," one is hard-pressed to actually find such language. The grammatical dependency of v.22 on v.21 means the entire household code is governed by mutual submission—husbands and wives. Whatever follows in vv.22-33 must be subordinated to v.21. That is how exegesis works.

As someone who took his wife's last name, I find Andrew's comment about my 'leadership' somewhat odd. I do not suddenly gain authority in a marriage relationship the instant I place a ring on Allison's finger. Rather, the idea of taking Allison's last name reflected for me a principle drawn in Gen 2:24, where I leave and go to her (not that everyone must take their wife's last name). The New Testament vision is not "who is your father," but "God is your father."

Andrew's caveat about making up a new name is a respectable concession, and simultaneously an easy one. My wife and I knew above all that we wanted to have the same last name. However, is the husband too good for his wife's name? Is he above her history, her story, her desires to remain true to her culture? As long as the husband does not accept his wife's last name, then everything is fine.

I'm sorry, but I find this very difficult to swallow theologically and biblically.

I've noticed a very similar trend in other conservative shows like Louder with Crowder (I have criticized Stephen Crowder here). There is a largely unsophisticated and, shall we say, uncritical edge to this sort of thinking. For instance, the assumption of male leadership in the home is entirely assumed, not argued for. Like I mentioned with Stephen Crowder, Jared, and Gerald, the hidden figure behind this sort of flawed reasoning is not Jesus, Paul, or Moses—it is Homer Simpson. What I mean is this: a culturally inert reading of Scripture that prioritizes the man over and above the woman, reflecting the attitudes and characteristics of one Homer Simpson.

It is also an amusing image, of Homer trying to read the Bible, but I digress.

There is no Scripture actually offered (the proof text Andrew offers does not support his reading; indeed it undermines it as I've briefly shown) to substantiate his brief claim. What makes this deeply troubling is the cultural supposition of male headship (Andrew never uses this terminology, but the language he uses is standard) within conservative political circles. Male headship, simply put, is the cultural air they breathe.

Which makes Paul's words about women so shocking. If the Corinthians, the Ephesians, or any other ancient group were alive today, they would be at home with Andrew and Stephen and much of my political sub-group regarding women—which says a lot about how regressive much of modern political conservatism actually is.

Thankfully, Paul is far more culturally inclusive of women and wives.

•    Who else in the New Testament advocates for mutual submission between spouses (Eph 5:21 & 1 Cor 7) in a time where the idea of a husband submitting to his wife was unheard of?

•    Who else in the New Testament names a woman as an apostle (Rom 16:7), a position of unique apostolic authority?

•    Who else in the New Testament calls a woman a deacon, a woman patron (προστάτις) of some high status who supported him (Rom 16:1-2)? A woman who read and explained Romans to the church in Rome, even?

•    Who else proclaimed that women and men were "one in Christ," affirming their blessedness as equal participants in the church and as full recipients of the promise (Gal 3:28)?

•    Who else names a wife before her husband, illustrating a cultural disregard for social hierarchy (Rom 16:3)?

•    Who else affirmed women's right and authority to prophesy in church (1 Cor 11:5) and their mutual interdependency with men 1 Cor 11:11-12)?

•    Who else affirms that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for all people, given by the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:12-29)?

•    Who else calls women "co-workers" (Phil 4:2-3), especially given the likelihood they are church leaders?

•    Who else says wives have authority over their husband's bodies, and likewise (1 Cor 7:3-4)? Where is 'leadership' in this scheme?

•    Who else says that both wives and husbands have a sanctifying role in marriage, and have spiritual authority over their husband's spiritual lives (1 Cor 7:10-16)?

•    Who else calls women "sisters" instead of making stereotypical jokes about their personhood (Philemon 1:2)?

•    Who says women and men are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27)? Well, this one is probably someone other than Paul, but your get my point.

As I mentioned to Stephen, and I mention now to Andrew, the New Testament vision is a vision worth pursuing. As it unfortunately stands, the New Testament is more liberating toward women than either Stephen or Andrew, and I am disappointed in my conservative sub-culture. They may believe they are just being 'politically incorrect,' but in reality, they are being 'politically correct' to their base.

Real courage is going against the grain. Political conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have an enormous chance here to embrace the moral vision of the New Testament. By including women as equal participants, equal leaders, equal image bearers in Christ, you are saying far more about the dignity and worth of women than those who willing denigrate women for capital gain.

I do not know about all of you, but I will take the witness of Paul over Homer Simpson any day.

Nick

Make God Great Again

"And to you're off spring I will give this land [that is, America]," Genesis 12:7. All translations are from the Trump English Tariff Translation (TETT).

Proof texting is not for everyone, but only for those who truly know their Bibles. Thankfully, we have the definitive revelation from God, the book of Revelations. Because we know that "land" always means "America," we are free to understand, via the inspired TETT, that "for all the America that you see I [that's the Big Guy Upstairs] will give to you [that is, us Americans] and to your offspring [Dreamers need not apply] forever [and forever ever]." Genesis 13:15 (TETT).

We see this all throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament—which does not have Jesus, who was a bit of a loser for that whole crucifixion thing. I mean, Rome had walls! They built roads! Not sad!

Genesis 15:7: "Then [GAWD] said to him, "I am the LORD [that's GAWD] who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this America to possess" (TETT). Now, nobody remembers who Ur was, or why his momma named him Chaldeans when Deans would have sufficed. From a purely perfect standpoint, Ur must have been the biggest loser of all time for God to take America away from him. What, was Ur all about NAFTA? Totally wrong.

I could totally go on.

So I will.

Wisdom 12:7: "so that the America most precious of all to you might receive a worthy colony of the servants of God." (TETT). Now, I know what you are thinking, Wisdom belongs to some other part of the Bible and not our Old Testament. But these people are smart, they love me! They called us precious! We are!

Sirach 37:3: "O inclination to evil, why were you formed to cover the America with deceit?" (TETT). Emails, ya'll.

This was fun. Hopefully you had a lark. Sorry for acting like a TETT.

NQ

Power Games: The Cross, 48 Laws and The Justification of Power

 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." -Romans 8:28

I've been reflecting a lot lately on how one navigates the complicated world of political intrigue, personal relationships, power dynamics and the way of Christ. In the world of the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, we are all playing a power game in life whether we know it or not and the smart people merely play it well.

What follows from this idea that we are all playing a giant power game? At work and in our quest to accumulate resources, prestige, and security in this world we shouldn't be bothered by the "petty feelings of others," we should intimidate others, use flattery when it suits us, wear many faces, and manipulate, manipulate, manipulate! Basically, this book adopts a Nietzche worldview assuming that in the quest for power one must go "beyond good and evil." The will to power is fundamental to human existence and in this book it is all encompassing of the person. 

In my initial estimation, I thought this book offered some insights, but in order for it to work one would have to be 1) a sociopath 2) a brilliant sociopath and 3) the most brilliant sociopath. However, in the end, I reject his view of the world entirely. Yes, many of us are susceptible to the will for power and yes there may be a dark side. Yet, so much more is hardwired into us that is not easily reduced to mere power games and allows the functional of us to have meaningful and transformative relationships. Forgetting this is at the least a tactical error and at worst separates one from joining in the life of God. Also, a word of caution, the author seems to have cycled through at least 80 jobs (not surprising in the least) before catching a great book deal. Perhaps, the book that is more his style is The Art of Seduction than a book on climbing the ladder to power.

My brief advice: Better to choose another leadership or strategy book to read unless you want to understand a large swath of people who think they are both brutal and brilliant if not bordering on emotionally damaged.

With all of the above in mind, most of us are not sociopaths and yet, power games are a reality that creates stress in a variety of social environments whether at work, church, home or other gatherings. And we are all faced with little choices whether it is to join into gossiping, speaking in unflattering ways about others, forming tight clicks, using position or privilege to get rid of someone or wedge them out of a job we want, failing to see the value in others, wearing different masks to fit in, lying, manipulating...etc. Or on the other side, we often fail to recognize good deeds God has prepared for us in advance such as giving of our time, providing a kind word, welcoming a new person, esteeming the gifts of others, or putting talented people in positions of influence who may have otherwise not been considered (race? gender? personality?).

Can we recognize that we may have sinned against God "by what we have done, and by what we have left undone"? Do we even know what we have missed out on?

Some of us navigate a tightrope in the game of power because of our ethnicity, gender or, other signifiers. On the one hand, passivity may mean lack of survival and on the other, playing the game seems to be the destruction of what matters to our fundamental identity as believers and the opposite of what Jesus modeled for us when he emptied himself and took on flesh. It seems in this complicated world many even find it to be a moral imperative that I as a feminist more than demand equal treatment. Supposedly, I ought to go out of my way to demean and snuff out the so-called privileged other. But God is not a God who sees privilege, but fellow brothers and sisters. This does not mean I deny concrete problems happening around me and recognize when the cards are stacked against me or another person, but it does mean that I must not, in turn, reduce others to systems, group identities or other negative or positive signifiers.

There is also the reality that at times people can be cruel out of insecurity and as Christians we walk a tight rope balancing survival in some instances (sometimes better to not survive!) and not sinning ourselves! Does a lie made up about me warrant a lie made up about him or her? Does an ever so subtle manipulation or sabotage directed at me warrant me trying to take the person in turn down a peg to ensure my place? I think not.

My basic thoughts are that if we must play the game of power, we must re-conceptualize power.

God is our life blood, our present, and future. He colors the way I see myself and evil in the world so that a transfiguration takes place. The reality of a crucified Christ brings the color of the resurrection into the now so that circumstances are not always as they seem. A woman being brutalized and exploited in public as a lesson for those who would challenge the masculine authority of a mighty empire is also a representative of the eternal God who gave his life for our salvation. She is not a victim but a warrior (CF. Perpetua and Blandina). Even Eve in her failure, and in her the people of Ephesus, can be "pregnant" with Christ's salvation (1 Tim 2:15-3:1a) despite being given over to false teaching.

I also believe that a person who loses in the so-called game of power because they could not respond in kind is beautiful in the sight of God and it is comforting to know that he is the one who sees us in the wilderness just as he saw the slave Hagar. And all the better when we can successfully "play the game" in such a way as to avoid harming others.

I believe our defiance against the powers that be great and small is simply in being who we are in Christ and letting our actions be shaped from it. I know people have found me offensive when I speak my mind, preach or teach theology, not because of content (though no one is perfect) but because of my God-given female body. I have found myself at concrete and implicit disadvantages because of it. Resistance is in being who I am and not being ashamed of it and knowing that God chooses the little ones to do great things with. Power finds those who will not be bent to their will or molded into their form offensive by virtue of their existence and so my thought is that even if I will be snuffed out, I might as well make it difficult for them! Besides, this entire lifetime is just the beginning of a larger story. 

Then there is the dark side to seeing one's self through the lens of God. It is not uncommon to find individuals and empires claiming divine authority (taking the Lord's name in vain) for doing evil. They rationalize that their success is God-approved or God-ordained. We are winning/doing well/succeeding/making lots of money because God is for us. They appeal to God in order to rationalize their choices (usually in the form of fragmentary ideas or texts placed into a framework of power). Where the Bible often asks "How long O Lord?" and "Why do the wicked prosper?" they see behind their system, institution, and success in life the might of God's Sovereignty so that they can do no wrong. You must simply adapt yourself to their godly will.

And yet God's Shekinah glory is ever present with us (even if not yet realized) making our interactions with others visible to God and taking place in holy space. How can we not live out our calling as representatives (image bearers) of God in Christ? We can delight not in that God has given us worldly power but that he uses the little ones, us. The ones who could not fail in their mission were those who were alone and cast off with no hope.

Many of us also know that things do not always work out for the good for those who love God at least not in the sense of how those in power perceive it. Those who love God get killed, their sense of self-twisted, their children die, they lose jobs, they get publicly humiliated and yet in another sense, everything does turn out for their good because they love God and he is their life now and in the future. We worship a powerful figure, a crucified Christ, one who rose on the third day and promises our resurrection as well.

At the end of my day, I know very well that I am small and haven't grown to where God wants me in my character. But I have hope because God is patient, infinitely loving and full of contagious joy and so I find it helpful to pray with others:

Most merciful God,

We confess that we have sinned against you

In thought, word, and deed, by what we have done,

And by what we have left undone,.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

Have mercy on us and forgive us;

That we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,

To the glory of your Name. Amen.

 

"Useless" or "Helpless?" Rethinking Paul's Perspective of Onesimus in Philemon 1:11

I took a course on Philippians and Philemon this summer, and I decided to write my final exegetical paper on Philemon—my favorite epistle in the entire New Testament. This little epistle offers a lot of complexity, considering its overall size, and one is left asking a multitude of questions that lack any sort of discernible answer. I still do not have all the answers!

However, something that many commentators agree upon is that Paul is using a pun in 1:11. Ὀνήσιμον (Onēsimos) was a very common slave name in the ancient world, and it meant something like "useful." So in Paul's advocating for Onesimus freedom (another disputable area), he uses the adjective ἄχρηστον, which commonly means "useless" and many translations render the term as such. "At one time, he was 'useless' to you" is the pun.

The Greek text reads like this:

τόν ποτέ σοι ἄχρηστον νυνὶ δὲ σοὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ εὔχρηστον

At one time [Onesimus] was useless to you, but he is useful to you and especially to me (my translation)

However, I think there is another dimension to ἄχρηστον that has not been explored and so I offer this idea as a modest proposal. Perspectivally, Onesimus was likely sent to Paul because he was "useless" to Philemon: so in the eyes of his master, Onesimus is "useless" to him, perhaps able to function in some sort of helpful way to a (likely) imprisoned Paul. Paul, I will suggest, may have his own perspective on his use of ἄχρηστον, but that will come out later.

However, the adjective is a hapax legomena in the New Testament, as in it appears only once. The same can be said of the cognate verb ἀχρειόω (c.f. Rom 3:12). It appears elsewhere in Second Temple Jewish literature and in the LXX.

Something else worthy of note is the difference between an adjective modifying a human agent and an adjective modifying a non-human object: for instance, a stone is different than a human being. Just wanted to note this.

The Second Book of Maccabees is about the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Empire. In 2 Maccabees 7:5 a Jewish family (a mother and her seven sons) are captured and they refuse to capitulate to the king. In 7:5, we have the following text:

ἄχρηστον δὲ αὐτὸν τοῖς ὅλοις γενόμενον: "but he became entirely helpless..."

In the previous verses, the person is said to be scalped and mutilated in the presence of the King and many others. It is safe to say that this person is not "useless," but "helpless" before his torturers before he is burned alive. The context is clear that the man is not "useless;" He is an oppressed person, trapped and tortured and ultimately killed. The language of oppression and power is key to understanding this passage, so this use is a vital citation.

The Book of Wisdom (Apocrypha) contains three uses of the adjective. 2:11 is written, seemingly, from the perspective of the 'UnGodly' who speaks of 'oppressing the righteous poor man' in v.10. I am using the NRSV translation.

Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
let us not spare the widow
or regard the gray hairs of the aged.

But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.

The voice speaks of "might" (ἰσχυρός) being their "law" (νόμος), and "what is weak proves itself to be useless (ἄχρηστον). In Wisdom literature, this is clearly a poetic way of contrasting "power" and "weak," which may sway our reading from "useless" to "helpless," as the context of v.10 and v.12 speaks of "oppressing" and "waiting" for the "righteous man." Given the language of power and hierarchy, "helpless" seems like a more contextually sensitive rendering of the adjective—especially in light of 2 Maccabees 7:5.

Wisdom 13:11 speaks in the context of idolatry, with descriptions of "gold and silver" cluing us into the difference between the God of Israel (living, powerful, dynamic) versus a "useless stone" (λίθον ἄχρηστον).

But miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are those
who give the name “gods” to the works of human hands,
gold and silver fashioned with skill,
and likenesses of animals,
or a useless stone, the work of an ancient hand.

The contrast between the God of power and might and glory and the created corporeal nature of idols makes for a stark relationship. A stone, of course, is not comparable to the previous subjects (a person being tortured, and a poetic description of a wicked person oppressing a righteous person), but the idea of a non-living stone being of no use in terms of worship is a helpful reminder of the differences between creation and Creator.

Wisdom 16:29 is within a context of praise, where Israel speaks to God: " you gave your people food of angels" (v.20). The entire pericope concerns the goodness of God and the strength of God, preserving his people from a multitude of violence and peril (vv.22-23).

For the hope of an ungrateful person will melt like wintry frost, and flow away like waste water.

The conclusion focuses on the "hope of an ungrateful person," and the final dishonoring of the hope of that figurative person. The final phrase that is particularly relevant is the closing statement about their hope, which "flow[s] away like waste water" (ὕδωρ ἄχρηστον). Since water is, of course, not comparable to a living person, one can safely say that the context refers to "useless" water, wasted hope by the person who does not love God (c.f. v.26). It speaks to the misused or even exploited nature of something given by God, which seems to result in judgment (17:1 passim).

Hosea 8:8 (LXX) is somewhat complex. It uses similar language as Wisdom 13:11 ("vessel"), but it deploys it in a different fashion. In speaking of Israel's unfaithfulness, we see:

For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads, it shall yield no meal; if it were to yield, foreigners would devour it.

Israel is swallowed up; now they are among the nations as a useless vessel.

Both meanings are likely in use here. "Useless" makes good contextual sense, as Israel is unable (or unwilling) to fulfill her vocation as a light to the Nations. Her compromise and failure thus render her vocation "useless" in the eyes of Hosea. However, the other element is also embedded within the text. Israel is "helpless amongst the Nations" (ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν). Given the powerful presence of other nations, it seems likely that Israel is seen as helpless before the mighty foreign powers. The use of the preposition ἐν could have a dual meaning here: "in the nations" as in Hosea has already assumed their apostasy has resulted in their being 'within' the various foreign powers. Or, as more likely, "among" is the more acceptable rendering as she is located as "helpless" amongst the nations. Israel, being a small assortment of people, has a little political power within the various kingdoms.

The final relevant New Testament citation comes in Romans 3:12, where the verb ἠχρεώθησαν (aorist middle-passive) is used:

All have turned away, together they have become helpless, there is not one who makes kindness, there is not one (my translation).  

Romans 3:9-20 is a deeply complicated passage, but the main thrust—in my opinion—is on the utter helplessness of the human person, the one's who do not know peace (v.17) and who do not fear God (v.18).

The important—the most important!—point is this, however: Νυνὶ δὲ in v.21: "but now!" The human person, the corporate body of humanity who is subject to Sin and Death, these cosmic and person powers who dominate our lives, are confronted by the apocalyptic Christ in vv.21-26. V.22 states this eloquently:

But the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, into all of the one's being faithful: for there is not difference.

V.24 is the focal point of my modest proposal:

Being declared righteous freely by his gift, through liberation in Christ Jesus.

The declaration of God for us is this: while we were still helpless, mired in Sin, subject to Death and the Powers of this world, we were given the gift of liberation in Christ Jesus. Therefore, 3:12 seems fairly decisive in proving my point: the helplessness of the human person, who is in need of the liberation of Christ, is the focal point of the passage.

This same liberation cannot be denied to Onesimus, if one holds to a coherent element of Pauline theology - what applies in Romans cannot be excluded from Philemon.

All of this data helps us reconsider the use of the adjective in Philemon.

This is my point: Paul could be using the adjective in two different ways here: he could be speaking of Philemon's own perspective ("useless"), but also of his own ("helpless"). Paul does in fact say "useless to you," which indicates that Paul does not and perhaps never shared this perspective.

Imagine this.

Onesimus: the one whom Paul 'birthed' in his bonds (v.10), the one who represents him bodily (v.12), the one whom Paul advocates (v.9-10), is to Paul "helpless." We do not know of the mental of physical state of Onesimus, but slavery in the ancient world was a deeply brutal practice. Imagine the years of abuse inflicted upon Onesimus, even at the hands of his Christian master, Philemon.

Imagine Paul receiving him, this "helpless" slave, he himself a prisoner.

Imagine Paul converting him to the Lord Jesus, speaking to him, nourishing him, seeking his well-being.

Paul had every authority "to order/command" (v. ἐπιτάσσειν) Philemon to release Onesimus, but that is too easy. Perhaps, perhaps, Paul believed reconciliation must occur before the vocation to which Onesimus was called. Whatever, the case, aspectivally, Paul cared about the body of Onesimus to the point where he identified with him, called him his own child (v.10), and said that Onesimus was "no longer a slave, but far beyond a slave, a beloved brother" (v.16).

A revolutionary idea, likely birthed by Gal 3:28 and 4:7.

3:28 - There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

4:7 - So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The linguistic parallels between Philemon and Galatians 4:7 cannot be denied, and it appears Paul acted upon them in a consistent manner.

In any case, the idea of Paul receiving a "helpless" slave, a person subjected to brutality and oppression cannot be dismissed. Indeed, given Paul's own theology, the Gospel was immediately necessary to the bodies of slaves, as even the Messiah - the savior of the world - became one of them (Phil 2:6-7).

Just a modest proposal. Nothing more.

NQ

Calvinist and Egalitarian?: Theological Resources for the Young, Restless, and Reformed

In my discussions with many Reformed people, particularly as I listen to certain podcasts like Reformed Pubcast and others, I am struck by their adherence to complementarianism. Of course, this is not to say that one cannot be both Reformed and complementarian. Rather, it is to say that I find it odd that the default position among the YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) is complementarianism. That is, women and men are equal in dignity and worth before God, but have separate and distinct roles in the church and in the home. In my context at Fuller, where I've studied under Oliver Crisp and other Reformed theologians, this sort of default complementarianism seemed odd.

The purpose of this brief post is two-fold. First, I want to offer resources to challenge this seemingly common trend of interpretation, as many Reformed theologians are egalitarian and it seems John Piper (among others) has been given a bigger megaphone than others. Second, in a brief discussion with some YRR brothers on social media, I was struck by the lack of accumulated resources that could benefit people who were sincerely interested in exploring this debated issue. Many of my YRR friends, and I say this with love, seem content to go along with their favorite Pastor (Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, etc) and not actually go to the word of God, as least in terms of primacy. This can also, of course, be flipped around if one comes from an egalitarian background (i most certainly don't). So the challenge is not in of itself exclusive to the YRR, but in this post it is directed to them. In love.

Second, I want to offer some resources to challenge my YRR brothers and sisters. The purpose is not necessarily to change your mind (although that is certainly deeply desired). Rather, it is to in essence break down the walls of miscommunication and to promote additional resources one is not likely to get from the footnotes of the latest Gospel Coalition blog post. 

Dr. Roger Nicole was a founding member of the major egalitarian organization, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). He also taught at evangelical seminaries such as Gordon-Conwell and Reformed Theological Seminary. The man was as Reformed and as Evangelical as one could be, even being a staunch biblical inerrantist. He wrote this in his article for Priscilla Papers (the academic journal of CBE, which has published one of my own articles, I am humbled to say!)

It is very instructive to consider what we may know about the women who are mentioned in connection with St. Paul’s ministry. There are eighty-nine individuals listed, some of them by name, in Acts and St. Paul’s thirteen epistles, as his companions. Out of these eighty-nine, twenty are women! In Romans 16:1-15, there is a mention of Phoebe, and salutation to twenty-eight persons, not counting mentions of church, household, brothers, and saints with others. Out of twenty-eight individuals, eight are assuredly women: Prisca, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother (who was also a mother to Paul), Nereus’ sister, and Julia. The name of Junia must be added to these. Furthermore, some women must be assumed to be included in “the church that meets in Prisca and Aquila’s house” (v. 5), the “household of Aristobulus” (v. 10), of Narcissus (v. 11), and “all the saints with Nereus and Olympus” (v. 15). The names of Patroba[s], Herma[s] and Olympa[s], with their accusative form, –an, could possibly be those of women, although being masculine is not ruled out. We know nothing whatsoever about these except that St. Paul greeted them. Apart from those three, there are sixteen masculine names, and, of these, only Urbanus is identified as a coworker of Paul…

… Surely St. Paul would not, in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, condemn on the basis of Genesis 1-3 what he had so freely commended in Romans 16. Some claim that the solution is to posit that 1 Timothy is not authentically written by Paul, a desperate expedient that is wholly unacceptable to evangelicals and that would raise serious questions about Timothy’s place in the canon and even as to its inspiration…

Inasmuch as the view outlined here has not achieved an almost universal recognition among evangelicals, as the inappropriateness of slavery has achieved since the nineteenth century, it is paramount that all evangelicals should strive to provide, particularly in the church, opportunities for our sisters to exercise the gifts of the Spirit that they have received, even where it is not thought permissible by Scripture for them to exercise the office of pastor or teacher. Thus, the church would not lose the benefits that God’s gifts were intended to provide, nor would our sisters be compelled to hide their light under a bowl (Matt. 5:15).

 For Dr. Nicole's article, see here. Lest one deny Dr. Nicole's credentials, he wrote a seminal article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25.4 (1982) on John Calvin and Inerrancy. You do not get more Reformed or Evangelical than that! He also contributed a chapter in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (2005), one of the standard egalitarian academic textbooks,  called "Biblical Hermeneutics: Basic Principles and Questions of Gender." A very worthwhile essay from a master theologian, who was known to be both humble and irenic. He also wrote, "Biblical Authority & Feminist Aspirations," in Women, Authority & the Bible (IVP, 1986), 42-50.

James K.A. Smith is a Christian Philosopher who teaches at Calvin College. He has taught at Fuller, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Regent. He writes he embraced egalitarianism because of a "Reformed Hermeneutic" (p.94). In essence, his theology is not dictated by the Fall and the Curse (Gen 3:16), but by redemption in Christ (c.f. Col 1:20). Creation, therefore, trumps the Fall. 

You can find the quote in his Letters to a Young Calvinist p.93-95.

Dr. Jamin Hübner is a Reformed New Testament scholar and systematic theologian who has been on our podcast (episode here) and we discussed John Piper. It was a good romp and Jamin has written some rather definitive pieces of literature, and he operates from a Reformed perspective. He wrote a short book called A Case for Female Deacons while at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has also written several articles including

  • "Revisiting αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12: What Do the Extant Data Really Show?," Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 5.1 (2015): 41-70. In this article, Jamin shows that the rare Greek verb in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not support a hierarchicalistic interpretation.
  • "Revisiting the Clarity of Scripture in 1 Timothy 2:12," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59.1 (2016): 99-117.
  • "Translating αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," Priscilla Papers 29.2 (2015): 16-26.

Jamin's doctoral thesis was also centered on arguing for a Reformed Egalitarian view, which includes exegesis of the relevant texts and the broader New Testament. He writes in the conclusion of his doctoral thesis

Finally...the power of tradition must never be underestimated. There are many “closet-egalitarians” who believe that women can be elders. But, due to their faculty positions at (for example) Southern Baptist seminaries or pastoral positions at PCA churches, they do not voice what they believe is true. Jobs would be lost and relationships would be broken. It would be easier to fall in line with the local/historical traditions than to earnestly contend for the truth. One can only pray that more brave men and women will see themselves as historical persons that have a story—one that their children and grandchildren will remember and tell, and that their story will speak of a person who did not compromise when it came to proclaiming the gospel in every area of life, including the area of gender equality and the role of church eldership.

Dr. Robert A.J. Gagnon is a New Testament scholar teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a PCUSA school. He has written the definitive traditionalist book on homosexuality called The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Many complementarians are willing to cite the book positively (c.f. God and the Gay Christian: A Response to Matthew Vines - the contributors to the volume are, of course, deeply complementarian), but are strikingly quiet about Gagnon's support for the ordination of women.

Michael F. Bird is a Reformed Anglican New Testament scholar in Ridley College in Australia. He wrote a short book, with a lovely title, called Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry. He writes

Yet I have changed my view on women in ministry, and some of my friends have shaken their head in disappointment, thinking that I have sold out to the cultural tide of feminism by adopting a fashionably left-leaning version of evangelicalism...in my early theological education I took to a patriarchal view very naturally. I was greatly influenced by complementarians such as John Piper, John MacArthur, and Wayne Grudem - men I still admire and respect even if I must now depart company from them on this issue.

N.T. Wright is Reformed. He writes

I have shown where I think the evidence points. I believe we have seriously misread the New Testament passages addressed in this essay. These misreadings are undoubtedly due to a combination of assumptions, traditions, and all kinds of post-biblical and sub-biblical attitudes that have crept in to Christianity. We need to change our understanding of what the Bible says about how men and women are to relate to one another within the church. I do wonder sometimes if those who present radical challenges to Christianity have been all the more eager to sieze upon misreadings of what the Bible says about women as an excuse for claiming that Christianity in general is a wicked thing and we ought to abandon it. Unfortunately, plenty of Christians have given outsiders plenty of chances to draw those sorts of conclusions. But perhaps in our generation we have an opportunity to take a large step back in the right direction. I hope and pray that the work of Christians for Biblical Equality may be used by God in exactly that way.

See his article "The Biblical Basis for Women's Service in the Church," Priscilla Papers 20.4 (2006): 5-10.

Dr. Aida Besançon Spencer is Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is an ordained PCUSA minister. You can see some of her presentations here and here. The first presentation concerns "Women, Silence, and the Church" and the second one is on the differences between Biblical Equality and Radical Feminism. Both are stellar and I commend them to you.

T.F. Torrance, a deeply influential Reformed theologian from Scotland, wrote a stimulating article about Christology and gender, and it is worth your time. He wrote

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We conclude that in spite of long-held ecclesiastical convention, there are no intrinsic theological reasons why women should not be ordained to the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament; rather, there are genuine theological reasons why they may be ordained and consecrated in the service of the gospel. The idea that only a man, or a male, can represent Christ or be an ikon of Christ at the Eucharist, conflicts with basic elements of the doctrines of: the incarnation and the new order of creation; the virgin birth, which sets aside male sovereignty and judges it as sinful; the hypostatic union of divine and human nature in the one Person of Jesus Christ who is of the same uncreated genderless Being as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; the redemptive and healing assumption of complete human nature in Christ; and the atoning sacrifice of Christ which he has offered once for all on our behalf, in our place, in our stead.

You can read his entire essay here.

As one can clearly see, one need not be both Reformed and Complementarian by default. Rather, the presence of Reformed Egalitarians ought to be a primer for the YRR movement to reconsider the cultural link between Reformed theology and patriarchy, and exhibit the spirit of the Reformation.

Beer!

Sorry.

Reformed and always Reforming.

NQ

"Christ Became Poor:" Preexistence, Poverty, and the Patristic Reception of 2 Cor 8:9

"The question concerning the identity and divinity of Christ is one born and raised in controversy."[1] Much of this ancient and modern debate centers on the variants of 'low' and 'high' Christology and subsequently most modern commentators have centered their attention on Pauline texts such as Phil 2:5-11, 1 Cor 8:4-6, 15:20-28 and Col 1:15-20[2]—among others.[3] Although modern New Testament scholars have also pursued understanding ancient economics and poverty in relation to Paul's thought,[4] the terrain is ripe for integrative theological reflection on reception history in light of both his Christology and ancient conceptions of poverty. The goal of this essay is simple: to assess the patristic reception of an often-overlooked Pauline text (2 Cor 8:9) with intent to synthesize a modern reading informed by earliest Christianity.[5] To accomplish this, I will begin by briefly surveying modern scholarly opinion on 2 Cor 8:9, and then I will provide an additional survey of the economic topography that modern scholarship has unearthed in relation to Paul's own theology before evaluating the reception history of Paul. As I will show, the patristic consensus of 2 Cor 8:9 is fertile ground for modern interests in merging ancient poverty and Pauline Christology into a coherent theological worldview.[6]

1. Incarnation or Not?: Modern Scholarship on 2 Cor 8:9

In recent New Testament scholarship, a debate has emerged concerning this specific text, and whether or not Paul is alluding to the incarnation of the Son. A well-known representative of a 'non-incarnation' reading of 2 Cor 8:9 is James Dunn. He believes that "the most obvious way to take 2 Cor. 8:9 is as a vivid allusion to the tremendous personal cost of Jesus' ministry and particularly the willing sacrifice of his death."[7] Hence, for Dunn, Paul is about the historical life of Jesus as opposed to Jesus' forsaking divine rights in a preexistent state of equality with God the Father. Calvin J. Roetzel also seems reticent to affirm a form of preexistence in 2 Cor 8:9, as he thinks the relationship between Phil 2:6-11 and 2 Cor 8:9 are "faint."[8] He does affirm preexistence in the Philippians text but seems to object to a similar reading in the text under discussion. He offers several reasons why, including a lack of commentary on the exaltation of Christ to the Father, and also a lack of Christ becoming 'poor' in Phil 2:5-11.[9] Similarly, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor states, "such a meaning [incarnation of 2 Cor 8:9], however, has no basis either in Paul's theological perspective or in the immediate context."[10] For Murphy-O'Connor, the text under question refers to "the radical impoverishment" of Christ as human.[11] Christ, in essence, is the ideal human being for this view, and thus the incarnation is placed outside the scope of interpretive options. There are objections to these arguments. For instance, the phrasing of Phil 2:7a (ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών) appears to contradict Roetzel's claim, as slaves in the ancient world were not known for being wealthy. Indeed, wealth itself was restricted to the elites.[12] Also, Paul's referring to Christ as becoming a δούλου emphasizes in a holistic way the poverty he was "born" (2:8a: γενόμενος) into. The exchange of status symbols thus makes Roetzal's claim highly unlikely.[13] Also, Murphy-O'Connor relies too much on equating "image of God" and "form of God," an exegetical fallacy that has been persuasively challenged.[14] Despite their well-constructed arguments, Dunn and Murphy-O'Connor appear to be within the minority of New Testament exegetes. Most modern commentators[15] on the Greek New Testament have pushed back against this thesis, and Margaret Thrall is the best representative. She states that the "traditional interpretation [i.e. the preexistence son becoming poor through the incarnation] of the verse is preferable to the other possibilities suggested,"[16] and Dunn's 'non-incarnational' option is indeed excluded by her critique. Thrall concludes:

[Christ's] self-impoverishment in the whole event of incarnation was for the spiritual enrichment of believers. We have the same principle of interchange as in [2 Cor] 5:21. The riches are not further defined, and are probably to be understood in a comprehensive sense as all the blessings of eschatological salvation.[17]

In summation, the incarnational reading of 2 Cor 8:9 appears to be the preferable option amongst modern exegetes, illustrating continuity with the history of interpretation, especially as we now consider the socio-economic context of the ancient world.

2. The Economic Landscape of the Ancient World

The economic terrain of the Greco-Roman world was largely contingent upon who controlled what. Walter Scheidel and Steven Friesen have demonstrated "that the vast majority of the population lived close to subsistence but cumulatively generated more than half of overall output [of wheat]."[18] As the Roman Empire was the largest force in the ancient during the time of the New Testament, it stands to reason that this economy affected the majority of early patristic sources, at least implicitly if not explicitly as we shall see. Juvenal writes, "most people who lived in Rome could not afford to own a house and therefore lived in rooms or apartments that they might own or rent" (Satires 3.193-202).[19] An economic elitism seems to lie at the heart of the ancient Roman economy,[20] with a majority of the population living at or beneath the level of subsistence:[21] this also includes Paul and a vast majority of first-century Christians.[22] When we talk about poverty, then, we are not talking about merely symbols of status, but of actual life and death.[23] The issue of poverty as a self-imposed state in "Late Antiquity and early Byzantium" is also reflected in the literature, [24] which is a concept that will be explored later. For instance, Schachner writes concerning this period, "Chosen poverty was an ideal to follow one's quest for spirituality and eternal salvation."[25] Thus, when patristic writers interpret Paul's epistles, they are indebted to their socio-economic context, and this comes out quite clearly in their reception of 2 Cor 8:9. The scope of poverty is nearly universal and concentrated. The self-impoverishment of the Son of God will now be examined through the lens of Paul's earliest recorded interpreters.[26]

3. Impoverishment and the Son of God: The Patristic Reception of 2 Cor 8:9

The majority of allusions or direct citations of 2 Cor 8:9 come from a later period, as the literature from the Apostolic Fathers does not appear to contain any direct reference to the text in question.[27] The records of the early Apostolic Fathers are silent regarding any citing or alluding to this text as far as can been seen, although there are deep echoes of the Trinity therein.[28] The majority of references recorded are in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. We begin with Gregory Thaumaturgus.

For the rest of my paper, enjoy it here.

NQ

[1] Chris Tilling, Paul's Divine Christology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 1.

[2] For a reframing of several of these texts, see Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

[3] For a fascinating exploration of Paul's divine Christology that does not focus on the standard biblical texts, see Tilling, Paul's Divine Christology.

[4] C.f. Bruce W. Longenecker, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), Justin J. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998) and David J. Downs, The Offering of the Gentiles: Paul's Collection for Jerusalem in its Chronological, Cultural, and Cultic Contexts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).

[5] For an excellent and expansive treatment of Pauline soteriology through a patristic lens, see Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). The scope of my proposal is far more modest, although my intent is similar. 

[6] The totality of Patristic evidence on this verse cannot be displayed. I have limited myself to key representatives and interpretations that appear to be consistent, revealing an interpretive thread that links all of these sources together.

[7] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of the Apostle Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 292. It must be said that this 'non-incarnational' view may not represent Dunn's personal view, only his view on what Paul said and believed.

[8] Calvin J. Roetzel, 2 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 46.

[9] Roetzel, 2 Corinthians, 46.

[10] Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Theology of the Second Letter to the Corinthians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 83.

[11] Murphy-O'Connor, Theology, 83.

[12] C.f. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival, 99

[13] It also may be said that the human life of utter impoverishment of Christ (the emphasis pressed by both Dunn and Murphy-O'Connor) does not necessarily rule out his incarnation. Indeed, contra Murphy-O'Connor (pp.83-84), it highlights the 'emptying' of the Son, who forgoes his divine status on behalf of those who are indeed impoverished. Murphy-O'Connor has missed the entire point of ancient theories of economics and status, and how this plays in Christ's self-abandonment of his status.

[14] See D. Steenburg, "The Case against the Synonymity of Morphē and Eikōn," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34 (1998): 77-86; Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 121-122.

[15] C.f. Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996), 215-217; Raymond C. Collins, Second Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 171-172; George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 406; Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 578-579; Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Vol. 40: Waco: Word Books, 1986), 263-264; Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 330.

[16] Margaret E. Thrall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 534.

[17] Thrall, 2 Corinthians, 534.

[18] Walter Scheidel and Steven J. Friesen, "The Size of the Economy and the Distribution of Income in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman Studies 99 (2009): 61-91, 62-63.

[19] Reference found in Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History. Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 63.

[20] This appears to be the case in Corinth during Paul's time. The social context of the Corinthians should be contrasted by their "pride in their economic status," per Hans Deiter Betz, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), 63.

[21] Longenecker, Remember the Poor, 45.

[22] See specifically Steven J. Friesen's table (1.3) in his article "Injustice or God's Will?:" Early Christian Explanations of Poverty" in Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society (ed. Susan R. Holman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 17-36, 29. Paul's placement in Friesen's "poverty scale" (PS) in section 6 appears to best explain the data in the New Testament.

[23] See the documentation in Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival, 53-57.

[24] Lukas Amadeus Schachner, "Social Life in Late Antiquity: A Bibliographic Essay" in Social and Political Life in Late Antiquity (Edited by William Bowden, Adam Gutteridge and Carlos Machado. Volume 3.1. Boston: Leiden. 2006), 48-50, 48.

[25] Schachner, "Social Life," 48.

[26] All of the sources I cite occur, most probably, before the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE. The relevance of these sources is they are by prominent members of the early Christian community.   

[27] The text consulted was Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English. Third Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).

[28] C.f. Stephen M. Hildebrand, "The Trinity in the Ante-Nicene Fathers" in The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (ed. Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 95-107.

A Woman's "Role" as a First-Born Son: Full Justification in Christ Translates Into Full Participation

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

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Many Evangelical Christians have found themselves convinced of a more egalitarian understanding of the relationship between men and women after reading Galatians 3:28 in context. While this verse does not say: “Women ought to be allowed to be senior pastors,” it lays out a crucial framework for church participation. Since we are in Christ, and no longer under the law, partiality must not be shown on the basis of ethnicity, social standing or gender because these barriers do not exist in Christ. Full justification translates into full participation of these groups as heirs (first-born sons) within the church (2:6-13; 3:5-9,18-29).  

Women Have the Status of First-Born Sons in The Life of the Church

If the status of women (slaves and gentiles) is that of first-born sons, then women may not be barred from a pastoral or elder ministry on these grounds.  Paul says, that in Christ, there is no male or female. If such divisions do not exist because both are to be considered sons, then one needs a compelling argument for exclusion, not inclusion. On what grounds may women be barred from leadership? In the absence of passages to the contrary, we are left with a general principle that tells us gender is not a barrier when it comes to the practical life of the church (and naturally this would extend to leadership). But why take this principle to be practical for the life of the church?

Consider our passage in light of the Jew and Gentile conflict mentioned earlier. Paul was opposed to the Judaizers’ insistence on upholding the ceremonial law in the church. He even stood up to Peter, who had reflected the exclusionary nature of the Judaizers, by not eating with the Gentiles.  In order to fully participate in the church, it was thought that Gentiles had to be circumcised and adhere to the dietary laws (Acts 15). Paul saw this as a return to slavery, which was at odds with the spirit of the gospel (Gal 4:8-11; 5). Paul was opposed to the favored status of the Jews over the Gentiles. This went beyond merely repeating that Gentiles could also be saved (there was already a court for the Gentiles in the temple). It had radically practical implications. Gentiles could now fully participate in the life of the church and this was symbolized by their ability to share a meal with the other members. The dividing wall of separation had been torn down (Eph 2:14). This shows that Paul had the practical outworking of justification in mind as well and extended the discussion to slaves and women. They too were fellow heirs—sons in Christ.

Philip Payne in his book Man and Woman One in Christ brings Ephesians 2 into focus for the sort of practical implication Galatians implies: “Ephesians 2:14 asserts that Christ...’has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ between Jew and Gentile. The court of the women with its own dividing wall lay between the court of the Gentiles and the temple. Galatians 3:28 implies the spiritual fellowship status to women as well as Gentiles. Similarly, the abolition of the necessity of circumcision (e.g., Eph 2:11-13) opens the door to full participation by women as well as Gentiles in Christian worship…the barrier metaphor Paul chose implies not just equal spiritual standing but equal access and privileges within the church” (93). The pairs Paul presents in Galatians 3 are social divisions. The negation of these divisions indicates that discrimination based on these divisions is to be rejected as heartily as Paul rejected the discrimination of the Gentiles throughout the Galatians.

Besides, the earthly implications of being a son or heir and the use of common social divisions, what other reason is there to think Gal 3:28 is practically minded and not limited to a justification that is mainly in spirit? It is also evident in parallel passages. The other similar passages are Colossians 3:11 and the baptismal statement 1 Cor 12:13. Both are applied to practical issues within the church and take on some familiar themes.

“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col 3:9-11).

 “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Cor 12:12-14).  Clearly, unity in Christ is tied to practice.

Another big reason to take this passage to be practically-minded and not repeating the already understood truth that gentiles, slaves, and women could also be saved, is the affirmation that all who were baptized into Christ "have clothed" themselves with Christ (Gal 3:27). This concept is used by Paul throughout his writings to "urge the community of God's people in Christ to cultivate virtues that will foster that community in practice" (The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, Moo p276). You can see the idea of clothing oneself with Christ referring to Christian practice based in salvation in verses such as Col 3:9-12 and Romans 13:14. Interestingly, Colossians 3 is also one of the parallel verses that give a similar listing of social divisions with a practical application in mind.

Lastly, it is important to note the well-known Jewish prayer of Paul's day that has the same order Paul uses with quite a different message: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast not made me a heathen…a bondman…a woman.” Jews already believed gentiles, slaves, and women could be "saved" and to this day I don't know that the Jewish people doubt Gentiles can go to be with God after death. The question was of participation in the community life of the people of God and in the case of the prayer, practical exclusion.

The purity laws that kept women from being priests and the requirement of being Jewish Levites that kept most from entering the holy of holies, was superseded when the veil was torn, the barrier of the dividing wall crumbled, and we were baptized into Christ. Now we live with this knowledge and reality. We the church, live in the “already but not yet.” The kingdom of God that will one day be consummated is breaking into the present. Our status as fully justified and free in Christ will one day be completely made known. For now, our world does not quite look like the kingdom to come and that is why we pray “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done: on earth as it is in heaven.” Miraculous signs, exorcisms, deeds of mercy and the outpouring of the love of God on our fellow man are signs we might participate in. They are evidence of the kingdom’s work. May God’s work be visible in the life of the Church.

 

AQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

At the end of the day, what some folks want is a single verse stating: Women as a class in and of themselves are permitted to be the equivalent to our modern conceptions of church leadership: A Senior Pastor. The Bible has no such statement. It tells you how to live your life as a person and community "in Christ" in a variety of circumstances and gives narrative frameworks in which to understand various claims or assertions.

From Gal 3:28 (in context) we can gather: Since we are in Christ (includes heirship, sonship…ect) and no longer under the law, partiality may not be shown in church practice on the basis of ethnicity, social standing or gender.

What follows from this principle or statement in our present context: Women may not be barred from a pastoral, elder, teaching or leadership ministry on the grounds of gender or other cultural-social class. Why does it follow? A universal argument was made against partiality towards 3 specific categories in the church. If there is no partiality based off of these 3 distinct groups can be made, then this applies to a specific instance of partiality as well: namely, leadership.

What else is needed to support this principle?

1. Church practice is in view here.

2. Church practice is tied to Paul’s view of justification (since justification is in view in the passage).

3. These barriers no longer exist in Christ and that this is universal (the verse in question says as much, and so the question turns to “in what sense?”).

4. In view of the Gender Debate and Complementarian claims that would seem to be defeaters to this principle or make us reconsider it, other verses such as 1 Tim…ect would have to be considered (We woudl of course also have to ignore the rest of Scripture and rip these verses out of context!...but we have already written and spoken on 1 Timothy and other passages).