JETS September 2006

I’ve been catching up on my article reading over the past couple weeks and in this particular issue of the Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society, there were two articles that seriously rubbed me the wrong way. Well, the second article did more than the first.

The two articles are:

“Paul’s Arguments from Creation in 1 Corinthians 11.8-9 and 1 Timothy 2.13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered” by Benjamin L. Merkle


“After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians Are Winning the Gender Debate” by Russell D. Moore

So what is my frustration?

As I said the first article is better than the second. Merkle seeks to fill a gap in complementarian argumentation. And that is commendable, very commendable because the gap needing filling is a canyon. The problem has been that complementarians argue that the reason women cannot teach men in the church is because in 1 Timothy 2.8-15, Paul argues from the creation order, something which in of itself is too simplistic a description (cf. Towner). That is, because man was created before woman, women do not have authority over men. The problem with this interpretation has been that Paul makes the exact same case “from the creation order” to argue that women should wear veils in 1 Corinthians 11.7-9. And yet, veils are cultural and 1 Timothy 2 is taken as a universal requirement from the dawn of time.

It is good that Merkle addresses this problem. Its a big one. His argument is that Paul is speaking of something more than just veils. This is fact many commentators have noted and mentioned. Merkle proposes that the “something” behind the veil is that Paul sees an important distinction between men and women that needs to be maintained (i.e. men are in control and women are not). There are gender roles to hold on to.

So what is the weakness of this argument. Well, besides my disagrements with him about the context of the passage within the letter itself, the main problem with his proposal is two fold.

1) His proposal is lacking primary sources (He cites Epictetus twice)! Merkle ignores history. His argument that the removal of the veil was a defiant act against male authority is simply a citation of Thomas Schreiner. We cannot do grammatical-historical exegesis by simply appealing to another scholar. We must go to the sources.

2) It is lacking a rebuttal of previous proposals that have been made, specifically, monographs and articles written on the exact same topic using historical data.

In the winter of 2002, James R. Payton, Jr., wrote an article that appeared in The Priscilla Papers, specifically, Winter 2002: 16.1, 13-17. The article was entitled “A Tale of Two Cultures,” in which he argued that the background for 1 Corinthians 11; 14 and 1 Timothy 2 was a certain kind of woman who was known for how they dressed and behaved. These women did not wear veils. And had the women of the church continued to not wear their veils in worship, the church would have, according to Payton, gained the reputation of a brothel.

Interestingly enough, completely separate of Payton’s article, Bruce W. Winter published a book which he had been working on for some time entitled Romans Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities. What is facinating about this book is that it proposes an almost exact parallel to Payton’s suggested background.

But Merkle has no mention of either of these discussions, one of which is over 200 pages long and unlike Merkle’s article is full of primary sources, sources that quite clearly show that the wife’s removal of her veil in public was not a matter of authority, it was an matter of sexual promiscuity.

If this is the case, that Paul is not dealing with gender roles/male authority, but modesty and sexual promiscuity in 1 Corinthians 11, then it is only one step farther to propose that the same issue is going on in 1 Timothy 2.8-15, particularly since the issue of modesty is raised in verses 8-10.

But more likely than not, Merkle cannot accept this possibility because he is already convinced that Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 2 is universal (I won’t even get into the discussion about whether αυθεντειν means “exercise authority,” but see HERE).

So my point to all of this is that if you’re going to write an article to answer a gap in argumentation for a view, please, read all the evidence, do some research with primary sources, and be aware of other arguments already presented.

Benjamin Merkle might be excused for missing the article in The Priscilla Papers, he probably doesn’t have a subscription and with his ideology has no interest in reading the journal, but there is no excuse for missing (or perhaps ignoring?) a detailed monograph dealing with the exact some issue published by Eerdmans three years before.

And for that reason, I think he failed to prove his case. That would require a rebuttal of Winter and Payton.

The maxim: “A Text without a Context is a pretext for a proof text” applies just as much to historical and cultural context as it does to literary context. Verses are not found in vacuums and neither are letters.

Tomorrow, I’ll deal with the other article, I need to get to bed.

2 thoughts on “JETS September 2006

  1. that depends on whether you think αυθεντειν means exercise authority or “to control/dominate.”

    I think its the former, even if the term is neutral in of itself, there are good exegetical reasons for taking it as negative in this context.

    If that’s the case, then the point is that trying to control others is wrong.

    Regarding the cultural context, I think that the point of the passage is missional, note especially the first four or five verses of the chapter.

    I think that whatever the function that women (or any part of life that isn’t a core gospel issue) play in the church should not hinder the spread of the gospel.

    If Ephesus, Paul had women stick with learning because their teaching was hindering the witness of the church, then perhaps we ought to be watching out for how we hinder the gospel message by the allowance we do or do not give to women (or anyone else for that matter).

    Thus, in places like the US, where equality is stressed significantly, such an emphasis on subordination will only hinder the gospel, but in other places in the world where their cultural systems are still extremely partiarchical, then we need to work with that system and let the Gospel do its work. God will make the cultural changes. Forcing them on a culture will only hinder the gospel message.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s