Preaching Stuff you Learn in Seminary

Seminary is a place where the more troublesome aspects of Scripture and history lay, waiting for exposition and exploration. Issues such as pseudepigraphy, tensions in the gospels, and the various problems of inheriting tradition come to mind right off the bat.

However, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with friends of mine (they know who they are): how do you preach technical issues in Scripture? If a pericope or sentence is disputed, do you preach it like 1 Cor. 14:34-35? If Paul didn’t write the Pastoral Epistles, can you preach on it, based on your view of pseudepigraphy? How does pseudepigraphy relate to inspiration? If Jesus didn’t say anything in the Gospel of John, can you say with sincerity that “Jesus said…”? Its one of the many questions I have, mostly because I’ve not gone through two years of seminary and have preached on most of these issues.

I won’t pretend to solve all of this in a single post, and I invite my preacher friends—gals and guys—to comment on social media with their own perspectives on these issues. For me, I will only offer some insights I have based on my experiences.

Regarding debated portions of Scripture, last year I gave a whirlwind summary of the entirety of 1 Corinthians at my home church. I quite literally went from chapter one to chapter 16. There is a lot of complex and debated material in 1 Corinthians to cover, everything from sexual immorality in ch5-6, gender in ch11 and 14, and so on. I tackled these issues based on my own exegesis of the relevant texts and contexts, and when I came to 14:34-35 I had a bit of a dilemma:

Do I even mention there is a debate about these two verses?

So, without any real hesitation, I delved into the textual issues regarding these two verses and explained to the congregation that these verses were most likely later additions—i.e. an interpolation to the original text, and thus carried no apostolic weight. To my surprise, nobody raised a fuss, and even some people said it made sense to them, based on the rest of the Biblical witness to women in ministry (he specifically cited Junia in Rom. 16:7 as an example).

So, in this one instance, introducing disputed historical debates worked well. It even seemed to encourage the congregation, as it affirmed a basic commitment to Scripture’s integrity. A woman did come up later and ask, but I had my Greek New Testament and was able to show her some critical marks in there, and she was impressed at the veracity of the text.

This is but one situation, and not every situation is comparable. It depends on one’s community, and not every community is open or interested in such debates. To be honest, I’m not entirely certain a pastor should be preaching these issues from her pulpit, unless it is vital to her sermon.

Another instance I recall is when I preached on 1 Cor. 15 and advent. I preached on the nature of destruction, and included my view that human beings are physical creatures that are not souls. In essence, I preached a physicalist or monistic view of anthropology. This seemed to cause some discomfort, but only until I got to the portions of Scripture that talk about SOMA, and I tied this directly to the doctrine of resurrection and the goodness of creation and the body. Then, I could see that the dualistic assumptions on the part of some people washed away and they “got” it. I concluded my teaching sermon on 1 Cor. 15:26 and the destruction of death, which signifies the utter annihilation of the final enemy.

While I did not explicitly teach my view of hell, I was able to use biblical language to describe how Paul viewed the end of evil and wickedness. I then had them verbally read Psalm 110 and when I reread 1 Cor. 15:20-26, their eyes lit up.

I was moved to see their own realization of their own humanness, and some people came up to me later to ask about what “hell” it. It was a teaching moment, and I was challenged, and mentioned that the dominant language in the New Testament signifies destruction. Some of them nodded politely and moved on, and one woman asked me if this meant that nobody would be in hell ever.

I paused, and said, “evil cannot exist in God’s new creation.” That seemed to satisfy her, and the sermon, I’m told, was very well received after that.

So it depends on the context in which you preach. For me, I was able to tackle multiple issues within a very short time, and I fielded questions afterward. Sometimes it wouldn’t help people to know about ancient manuscripts. Sometimes, a Greek word could mean an entire paradigm shift on the part of your community.

Scripture is alive after all, waiting to be taught with the full authority is bears. Be sensitive to the text, and especially be sensitive to your community. When Allison and I taught through the Epistle to the Ephesians, our eyes were opened to the needs of our church, and the critical issues dropped by the side of the proverbial road. We mentioned them, but they did not entirely help our particular conclusions. Sometimes these issues don't help. Sometimes they do.

In any sense, honesty is necessary to good preaching. I was the one kid in church would, upon learning that "hell" existed, pestered my poor youth pastor with questions until he could not longer think straight. While I still harbor some resentment over being ignored and dismissed, I suspect it too was a teaching moment: sometimes the critical issues could save a person's faith. Sometimes, you could be surprised by the complexities of Scripture.


Glorify God with your Body

I’ve been working on a potential Ph.D dissertation proposal (don’t worry, it isn’t about hell!), and have comes across some interesting language in 1 Cor. 6:20.

ἠγοράσθητε γὰρ τιμῆς· δοξάσατε δὴ τὸν θεὸν ἐν τῷ σώματι ὑμῶν

“For/because you have been purchased at a price; now glorify God with your body" (NRQT).

This concluding statement comes at the finale of chapter 6, which has been concerned with infighting amongst believers. Concerned to emphasize the goodness of the human person (or “body”), Paul assertsin v.19 that the human body is a ναὸς (“temple”), which establishes a high view of the human person. This human person may give worship (that is what happens at the temple or shrine), and she is also a model for how to interact with God, and suggests further that being σῶμα is a good thing. This is why the human person is still called σῶμα in the resurrected state (c.f. 1 Cor. 25:35-57). The physicality of the body is never fully removed, but the physicality is transformed and restored.

Paul does not draw a dualistic distinction between the “matter” and the “non-matter.” Rather, he uses the natural or concrete images of ναὸς and σῶμα to illustrate God’s good creation.

Verse 20, then, stresses the necessity of holiness of bodily integrity. This verb ἠγοράσθητε is used throughout the New Testament (mostly in the Synoptic Gospels), but finds its use in three instances in Paul. The first is obvious here in 6:20. However, there is a curious use in 7:23 and also in 7:30. In 1 Cor. 7:23, Paul uses an imperative middle verb (γίνεσθε) to argue against slaves to no longer return to slavery and are likely to told to take freedom in 7:21). They were bought with the same τιμῆς or price or cost; “therefore do not become slaves of people!” The human person, in all of her physical totality, is not worthy of slavery, especially in God's eyes.

"argue against slaves to no longer return" and "likely to told to take freedom")

The use of ἀγοράζοντες in 7:30 refers to not “buying” possessions because of Paul’s view of the immanent return of Christ (that is a dissertation or ten right there).  

Thus, the human person has been purchased at a great price (likely, the resurrection of Christ that liberates us from bondage), and as a result, we glorify God with our bodies. Of course, we cannot glorify God in a spiritual manner (to utilize that adjective seems almost disconcerting in light of the economic language here), but we can worship and sing and offer thanksgiving.

We have been purchased from the slavery of Death; therefore, we participate in God’s new economy of glorifying him with all that we truly are: now and forever.


Why I Am Not “Convinced” By 1 Timothy 2:12-13

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way... I am not permitting a woman to teach nor authentein a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  Gar Adam was formed first, then Eve.” –1 Timothy 2:1-2, 12-13


It is still not unusual after more than ten years of study on gender theology and related biblical passages to be quoted 1 Timothy 2:12-13 as though it were a trump card to my egalitarianism. In many cases it appears as though they are thinking that maybe (just maybe) I had never considered the passage before. Perhaps the mere quotation of an isolated passage would part the waters of my dark, “liberal” mind.

 Despite the reality that the Bible consists of more than 1 Timothy 2:12 alone and that it is not good to have one or two texts control one’s entire theology, I don’t find the text itself or entire passage to be so clearly in favor of gender hierarchy. That is, I do not find that the text itself teaches that only men should be teachers or in authority. Why is this? The following is a brief overview of how I read the passage(s) along with some particulars to note in this controversial discussion.

 What is the Discussion Really About?

 The purpose or occasion for Paul’s writing is to stop the spread of false teaching. It is in his intro, throughout his letter and in his conclusion. For now consider Paul’s opening remarks for why he is writing this letter from 1Tim 1:3-7:

 "…Remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."

 So basically, there are false teachers that are going around living in ways that are contrary to the law of love and teaching false doctrines. They want to be great teaches and make lots of strong claims, but don’t know what they are talking about.

The expressed overarching idea of chapter two is for the entire church to lead a life of “quietness” and peace (2:2). A person's behavior is tied to what he or she believes about God so that if someone is thankful for all people and believes God desires all people to be saved, then they will reflect this in their own actions as believers (2:1-7). Note that Paul connects the essentials of what the church believes to how they treat others. Faith is not merely a private isolated commitment from how one acts within a community. 

Behaviors to Stop and Start

 Paul identifies particular bad behaviors perpetrated by certain groups in the church. Men are told not to angrily quarrel and women are told to be mindful of how they dress. In this context it probably has more to do with showing off social status rather than sexual immodesty like he does in 1 Cor 11. “Godliness” is to be expressed in good works (as is the case with the men doing good instead of quarreling) not in a display of wealth with one’s clothes. The people of God value one another in a way that is not status seeking or socially domineering.

The "Sexist" Parts of the Bible?

What follows can sound extremely bad for women depending on which Bible version you are reading or only a little odd. The ESV on the more negative side translates it this way:

 “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

 Immediately you may notice that the word “quiet” applied to women is the same as for everyone in the whole church in the earlier verses I shared in chapter 2. Also note that in Christian ethics those in the church give preference to one another (i.e. “love your neighbor as yourself”) and are expected to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5: 21). Women are expected to do the same and learning quietly was also expected of every good student. Women are being singled out here probably because they are the ones having particular issues with this at this church (like the men needing to lift up holy hands rather than fighting). Read the rest of the book and notice how many times women are described as the ones doing negative behaviors.

Additionally, although the women are to be allowed to learn they must do so with the same quietness and submission demanded of all students in the ancient world especially those who wish to be teachers.

Are ALL Women EVERYWHERE Not Allowed to Teach or Exercise Authority?

Here are some translation options:

 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

 I am not permitting a women to teach nor assume authority over a man; rather, she is to be quiet.”

 Again immediately, depending on your translation you will either walk away thinking Paul is making an absolute statement about all women that they cannot do two things or, that he is saying something that pertains to the present situation “I am not permitting” and/or they should not be engaging in a certain type of teaching “teach nor assume authority.” Grammatically, “I am not permitting” is correct (present, active, indicative).

 There is also a long complicated discussion over whether two things are being listed that should not be done or whether it is really one thing “teaching in an assuming way.” I go with the second (Check Out Philip Payne for More Info). I opt for "usurp/assume authority" over exercise authority because according to outside literature (we have to go outside because there is only one instance of this word in the NT) "exercise authority" is only a meaning hundreds of years after Paul and Payne makes a good case for "usurp/assume authority" over "domineer." Something else to consider, Paul and other NT writers have a common word for authority "exousia" (ἐξουσία) and don't need to use a word with negative connotations "authenteo" (αὐθεντέω) used for taking authority, power or something else that is not yours.

In sum, I believe Paul has a particular group in mind (in this case mostly women) and he is telling them to be “quiet” like everyone else and not be the kind of teachers that assume authority for themselves. Paul’s description in the intro describes them well: They are self- proclaimed teachers desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

Of course, just because Paul is speaking to a particular situation does not mean it does not apply to all of us who are arrogant, false teachers or people who usurp/assume authority that is not ours.

This is true whether it be all or some of the above. 

“For Example” vs “Because”?

 Coming off of the command for the women to be quiet and not take authority for themselves, enters either a rationalization or reason why they are not allowed to each, or merely an example exemplifying their situation? Translation can make the difference here and the Greek word Gar can be translated as “for/because,” “for example” or even go untranslated. Some options for Vv.13-14:

 For (or because) Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

 For example, Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

 Either of these options are reasonable if the verse is looked at in isolation. However the theological implications can be stark. Is Paul saying this particular group of women (or all women everywhere if you extend the present active indicative in “I am not permitting”) cannot be assuming teaching authority or teach and exercise authority because of a creation mandate based in who was created first? Of course, this is a pattern God himself does not seem to want to follow (i.e. Moses, Joseph, Jacob, King David…etc). I think that in context the latter fits better:

 There are false teachers going from house to house (5:13—the word sometimes translated as “gossips” is actually stronger and used for false teaching), who are mostly though not necessarily all women. Perhaps they are undermining the authority of male teachers in the churches (proto-gnosticism, mystery cult, “new woman” or Artemis cult influences?). Unfortunately, unlike Priscilla, Phoebe or Junia or other female teachers Paul encountered or was under they do not know what they are talking about because they are the one’s who are deceived—just like Eve!

Next Paul offers some hope that leaves many puzzled.

“Yet she will be saved through the childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

 Yes “saved" is correct (σῴζω). The word used for salvation, salvation that one can only have by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And yet despite all Paul’s talk about orthodoxy there is one heterodox exception when it comes to procreation for women? Missing in many Bibles is “the.” Paul does not have childbearing in general in mind, he has “the childbearing” that was promised to a particular woman in Genesis who was deceived by the serpent…the one who would crush the serpents head… guess who that is.


 Yes, these are false teachers and yes their behavior is showing that they don’t know what they are talking about and are a threat to the church, but they should be allowed to learn better and there is hope for them because even Eve who was deceived was given the promise of who we know to be Jesus. They too can be saved and brought into a new life of faith characterized by love, self-control, holiness, a quiet, peaceful tranquility not division, status seeking and taking what is not earned.

 This is a lesson for all of us, not just women!


Justification and Life for All in Romans 5:12-21?

After a fun-filled time of great plenaries and a random guy who prayed for my fertility--and keeping Nick from shouting profanities--I gave my first paper presentation at the Rethinking Hell Conference. Basically, this is a super long academic paper that primarily makes an exegetical case for universal accessibility to salvation, not universal salvation. At the end I conceptualize universal accessibility (argued from the text) from the vantage point of a conditionalist theological framework (not an argument for conditionalism).

In my opinion, any time someone announces they are going to do a "Calvinist" or "Egalitarian" reading/exegesis of a text they are doing exegesis + theology. For better or worse I decided for fun to separate exegesis from my larger theological position and announce and integrate it at the end!  --AQ