Showing posts with label I Corinthians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label I Corinthians. Show all posts

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vaughn Ohlman dialog, part tria

Vaughn Ohlman posted four comments in response to our previous conversation. Those comments will be posted below, followed by my own response. Commenting on the statement of mine, that "one's interpretation of historical events necessitates an understanding of the context, culture, and occasion in which Paul's letter was written, just as much as the didactic commandments which Moses recorded in the Torah, and therefore can be legitimately understood as narrative in that broad sense (as viewed by future generations, like us today)," Vaughn Ohlman wrote:
Indeed I do not deny it. However it does rather ruin your idea that my method of interpreting narrative examples is what must necessarily drive my interpretation of the headcoverings passage.

My response:

Now I'm confused a bit. Perhaps it's because I haven't been clear enough. So far my comments about your method of interpreting narrative examples have revolved around two concerns: 1) presuming that historical narratives per se were intended to teach or endorse what is normative for christian ethics in all cultures and generations, and 2) claiming that one aspect of the redemptive-historical-method, insofar as it does not treat historical narratives per se as standing laws which are normative for Christian ethics in all generations, contradicts 1st Timothy 3:16-17. As a subset of the second point, your blog also infers that such a methodology does not comport with theonomic hermeneutics. 

With regard to your official position on head-coverings, I only have your blog post (here) upon which to base my claims. And your conclusion in that blog post begins with the statement that "except for the last hundred years or so, the church has always been in agreement that women should worship with their heads covered, as, indeed the Christian custom was that women should have their heads covered generally. However recently much of the church in the 'developed' world has abandoned this belief. Instead they teach that the passage was purely cultural, teaches only about long hair, or is irrelevant in some other way. This belief is new and, in my opinion, is, like any other departure from Scripture, dangerous."

That is quite a remarkable statement, and because I considered it worthy of some healthy scrutiny, I linked that post on the blog for others to evaluate as well. That way the world knows I'm not just flinging hazardous accusations around. Now, as far as your arguments after that statement are concerned, I see the crux of it as depending upon historical narratives, and the commentators interpretations of historical narratives as well. That's not to say that every aspect of John Gill's or Calvin's arguments (as you quoted) are grounded on historical narratives alone; but that is to say that the crux of all such arguments in your blog post redound upon historical narratives within Scripture as necessarily illustrating morally binding customs, not simply wisdom and decorum.

In conclusion to that particular blog post of yours, you state what you believe and teach as a result of such arguments, namely that: 
those women under my authority should always wear a headcovering when engaged in any public worship (i.e. church service, a gathering of a smaller group for purposes of worship, or family worship)" and that "those women under my authority should also wear a headcovering when meeting together with Christian women who wear the headcovering at other times (Romans 14).

My comments so far, which disagree with such peculiar interpretations as yours, have attempted to follow the flow of your arguments presented on that very same blog post. And the crux of those arguments, presented by you and the commentators you cite (Gill, Calvin, etc.), depends upon the presumption that examples within Scripture and it's history illustrate, as Matthew Henry said, "the ordinances and institutions of Christ." Even on occasions where the Apostles write in response to specific historical challenges within the new covenant Church, it is often presumed that the Apostles were either instituting brand new moral codes of conduct--even different from the Torah--under the authority of Christ, or they were re-instituting a moral code of conduct which has been required since the beginning of creation (which I just don't think is exegetically tenable, nor do I think that contradicts II Tim. 3:16). Such operating presumptions are precisely what I am challenging; but it's not as though I'm presenting a new challenge (or even a liberal one). I have inferred in previous posts that I am presenting a theonomic challenge, and I am espousing a hermeneutical methodology more in line with scholars like Greg Bahsen. (I even referenced his course on hermeneutics before, to which I agree greatly.) 

Now, if I understand correctly what you're saying in the comment above, you see a conflict (or contradiction?) with my initial concerns (about depending upon historical narratives) and my affirmation of I Cor. 11 as being didactic. Well, perhaps I'm mistaken, but I don't see why that ruins my point. As I pointed out in my previous post, Paul's response to the Corinthian church between 7:1 and 16:2 contains both elements of discourse, narrative and didactic. Narratives can contain didactic elements. And when Paul reports any connected events within his letter, which he most certainly does, that can be viewed by non-recipients of his letter (i.e. 21st century Americans) as a narration of events needing to be addressed and corrected with didactic statements.

My position concerning "headcoverings" is that, as an historical occasion for which Paul's second letter to Corinth was written, Paul's statements about men and women praying and prophesying with "headcoverings" (which is a disputed translation and interpretation, but I digress) regarded a social convention  which was easily identified by members of the Corinthian congregation, and therefore was culturally relative to some extent; but that is not to say that Paul does not appeal to God's unchangeable moral law for guidance in addressing that particular concern/problem in Corinth. Indeed, as many world-class commentators agree, Paul appeals to God's moral law and social order to justify the wisdom of applying or not applying "head coverings" for that particular concern needing to be addressed, namely of men and women praying and prophesying in worship. And I don't see why Paul's appeal to God's moral law and social order, specifically his statement that "the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God," necessarily infers that "headcoverings" for women "engaged in any public worship (i.e. church service, a gathering of a smaller group for purposes of worship, or family worship)" always has been a moral law for all cultures and all ages. In fact, now that I am re-evaluating your concluding statements on headcoverings, I'm also not sure how you move from affirming these requirements for public worship to mandating them for private family worship as well.

Now, if you recall, my position, as stated in the previous post, is that even though I do not personally believe Paul is referring to "head-coverings" in I Cor. 11, I also do not believe that women today who wear "head-coverings" in worship are sinning. In fact, as far as I can tell, it's a public display of their love of obeying God (or what they believe God's Word requires of them). And to that degree, I commend them for holding firm to their personal conviction about the didactic elements of God's Word to them. 

* * * * * * *

Moving on the your second comment which concerns an illustration of mine--namely that Paul's didactic statement to "not seek a wife" should not be interpreted as meaning that all christians, of every culture, of every age, should not seek a wife--you responded:
It would be especially awkward to argue this as it would be contradicted in the very same passage. For example: 1Co 7:1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 1Co 7:2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 

I'm afraid that oftentimes we take for granted what is "obvious" in the text. If we've meditated on a particular passage a few times, certain things seem to be more obvious than others. In this case, you seem to think it would contradict other statements within the same passage. But in fact, depending on one's presuppositions, that would not necessitate a contradiction (or even a sub-contradiction). 

Please consider the following argument as an example (however unlikely we both may perceive it to be):

When Paul begins chapter 7, saying, "because of the temptation to sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband," that could be interpreted as meaning that those who are tempted to engage further in sexual immorality should only remain with that one partner. And if they stick with that one partner, there are certain rights involved within that relationship. 

Following those statements in chapter 7, Paul speaks directly to those who are unmarried and widowed and he tells them "it is good ...if they remain even as I am" (i.e. single and celibate). From this, some could possibly argue, that when Paul addresses others, they are either already married or he addresses them as ones who are already in a "tempting" relationship (i.e. tempted to sin sexually). With such presuppositions, Paul could be teaching them that it's always better to remain single than to ever marry, and if someone feels some absolute need to marry, it should only be because of present temptations to sin. Therefore, with such a chain of presuppositions, the main "moral law" (it could be argued) is that all christians, of every culture, of every age, should not seek a wife, especially if they're not already "bound" to one through sinful temptations. They might have to just marry whomever they're currently tempted with, without seeking further, but if they can avoid being "bound" to a wife (or sinful temptation) they ought to remain celibate just as Paul did. With such presuppositional commitments, both Paul's and Jesus' examples could even be considered the chief "biblical" examples of singleness and celibacy as a moral duty.

Hopefully you see my point in using this illustration. My point is that it's logically possible to interpret Paul's statements that way, which means there would be no "contradiction" in teaching a new moral law to not seek a wife. And both Paul's example and Jesus' example could be used to buttress one's presuppositions. But notice carefully: that is not how you initially interpreted it. You interpreted it as a contradiction. And that goes to show how deeply our presuppositions affect your interpretation of those particular historical examples. 

* * * * * * *

Below is your third comment:
I am a bit at a loss as to where to continue this conversation. My method of interpreting narrative examples being attacked, I am now attacked with didactic passages. So is what is actually being attacked my entire hermeneutic? If so the RH method is no longer an issue, except for my second issue with them of forcing the main point.
Or are we having a discussion regarding headcoverings (in the context of hermeneutics)? I am willing to have that discussion as well, but perhaps we need to disentangle it from the present one. 

My response:

I'm not quite sure what I said exactly that lead you to conclude that your "entire hermeneutic" is being "attacked." I am sorry for coming across that way. I realize it can come across that way when stressing the need for greater clarity and precision. You are a Christian brother and I don't wish to cause violence to you personally, leaving you feeling as though your entire hermeneutic is being attacked.

Perhaps it will help to recap our discussion a bit. 

In the context of my first post, the RH method was only mentioned because you said one aspect of it contradicted II Tim. 3:16-17. I then posited that such a rejection, however partial it may be, must be adhered to if the arguments presented on your blog post are to hold a lot of weight. I then argued that not only does the partial rejection of the RH method (as you understood it to be "rejecting whole cloth example" entirely) not contradict II Tim. 3:16-17, but some of the conclusions drawn from such a rejection (essentially leaving the door wide open for any historic example to be used arbitrarily) also conflict with theonomy proper, especially the theonomic methodology espoused by Greg Bahnsen, whom you endorse on your blog, "The Practical Theonomist". Even I'm not in full agreement with every aspect of Bahnsen's hermeneutic. But I am quite sure that some of your distinctive theonomic interpretations conflict with those endorsed by Bahnsen, which, as I see it, creates an embarrassing association between the two.

Perhaps one avenue in which this conversation can continue is to do as you suggested, and disentangle our current discussion of headcoverings from the original concern/discussion. Although, I'm also comfortable continuing a discussion with both together because we both have identified one major disagreement in your final comment, and I still find the arguments of your blog post concerning headcoverings to depend upon Paul's narration of 1st century events in connection with its more general Old Covenant practice (note carefully Gill's citations and arguments on your blog). Neither of us dispute the fact that Paul is utilizing God's moral law to argue his point in 1st Corinthians. Our disagreement is over what that moral law is, and how the narration of events in Scripture lead us to dramatically different conclusions.

* * * * * * *

Below is your final comment and my response.

Commenting on my statement that "teaching the moral duty of such a practice in all christian churches is creating an unnecessarily embarrassing subculture of Christianity which does not edify all christian churches or the families therein. And that which does not edify, ought not to be enforced upon all Christian churches or presented as a standing law for all Christians in public worship," you replied:
Wow, now here I believe that our hermeneutical principles do contradict rather dramatically. With the various weasel words changed, I would affirm rather the exact opposite of this principle.

Vaughn, could you please clarify what you meant by this statement, so I don't accidentally presume too much about what you actually meant?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dialog with Vaughn Ohlman, part deux

In a previous post, Vaughn Ohlman was kind enough to respond to some of the concerns I expressed. His comments (and my response) can be seen below:
One big issue in your above post is headcoverings, about which I have two immediate things to say: 

1) Headcoverings is taught in a didactic, not narrative, passage, so I am confused as to why you are bringing it up.

  2) I would refer much of your question to RC Sproul SR:

 The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church...? - R.C. Sproul Sr.

My response to this is below:

Regarding your first point, there are numerous ways in which I could respond. I could contend the whole issue of "head coverings" as such. The Greek text does not actually say "head-coverings" anywhere in I Cor. 11, and that still remains a widely disputed text within Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. But even if I were to agree with that translation, your concern about it being a didactic passage, and not a narrative passage, is not above reproach either. One's interpretation of historical events necessitates an understanding of the context, culture, and occasion in which Paul's letter was written, just as much as the didactic commandments which Moses recorded in the Torah, and therefore can be legitimately understood as narrative in that broad sense (as viewed by future generations, like us today). But you are correct in that Paul's statements within I Cor. 11 are didactic. I don't deny that at all. I affirm that they were indeed didactic. But just because they were didactic, does not necessitate that the context, culture, and occasion in which is was originally delivered is without limitations in it's application for Christians in a different context, culture, and occasion. As a professed theonomist, I am sure that you are aware that there must be some limitations in applying didactic passages of Scripture. For example, the didactic commandments which Moses recorded in the Torah ought not to be applied verbatim today. Moses did not write the Torah to us today, but he did write it for us today. That is an important distinction to make in defense of dogmatic claims about morally binding (i.e. standing) laws. There are contextual and cultural limitations inherent with the Torah as a whole, which is why the Westminster Divines (many of whom were theonomic) held that only the general equity of the judicial laws (within Torah) were morally binding. That is to say, even though the judicial laws were didactic, they are only morally binding outside of the context and culture in which they were delivered insofar as they illustrated God's moral character (i.e. His "moral law"). And the application varied from culture to culture, generation to generation. I would argue that the same is true with every didactic passage of Scripture, including  those found in 1st Corinthians 11.

Paul did not write to the church of Corinth in a vacuum. First Corinthians, as we know it, was the second letter to that church (I Cor. 5:9). And two events led Paul to write it. First, Paul had received a report from Chloe's people indicating that there was trouble in the church (I Cor. 1:11; 11:18). (Notice the similar phrase repeated by Paul in the first and eleventh chapter, the chapter in which "head-coverings" are mentioned.) Second, members of that Corinthian congregation had contacted Paul in writing (I Cor. 7:1), asking him for counsel on various culturally sensitive issues. Those congregational concerns span from 7:1 to 16:12, and in no way should every didactic answer to their written questions to Paul be interpreted as Paul writing his answer to us today. For example, in I Cor. 7:26-31, Paul writes to them didactically, saying:
I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
I have already discussed this "passing away" of the present "world" in numerous posts (here, here, here, here, here, and most importantly here), which explains the time constraints of this "present distress" mentioned by Paul. Irregardless of whatever eschatological agreements or disagreements there might be between us, clearly, whatever cultural concerns undergird these "didactic passages," it is awkward to argue that Paul wanted all Christians, of every culture, of every age, to not seek a wife (as he clearly says above). Just because the passage is didactic to those in Corinth, that does not mean Paul meant it to be didactic to those in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in the year 2013. Admittedly, there is general equity to all of Paul's didactic statements, and insofar as we can deduce Paul's application of God's moral law, there is an example set before our very eyes of deducing the general equity of such moral laws for our culturally relevant circumstances; but only once they can in fact be deemed as exegetically tenable moral laws of God. But such an application today can hardly be justified by a simplistic claim of any passage being "didactic." 

The Christian's understanding of this principle affects every interpretation of New Testament history, whether the much larger historical narrative has been deposited in the Church in the form of didactic letters or not. Our understanding of what Paul taught them, in Corinth, at that time, helps Christians today understand the way in which Paul's didactic statements do and do not apply today. And to insist on doing so is not at all a contradiction of 1st Timothy 3:16, as you claim on your blog. If all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness -- it is only profitable insofar as it is understood in the historical and cultural context of the entire letter. If the context undergirding those historical events does not necessitate it's interpretation as a standing law, it's not profitable to teach it as a standing law. It then becomes profitable for reproof and correction of those who are training others foolishly under the guise of "righteousness." 

This is manifest in a variety of ways within 1st Corinthians itself. Regarding other concerns of the Corinthian congregation presented to Paul in writing, every passage between 7:1 and 16:12 can easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted as standing laws if not handled carefully. The perspicuity of such passages is not always as great as our modern baptistic culture claims. With every one of the "didactic" statements from Paul to the congregation of Corinth, whether it's a statement about celibacy, singleness, and marriage (I Cor. 7), or food offered to idols (I Cor. 8), liberty of conscience (10:29), praying or prophesying with "head-coverings" (11:4-5), getting drunk at the Lord's Supper (11:21), eating at home (11:34), the gift of tongues and prophecy in worship (Ch. 12-14), or the claims of some who say there is no resurrection of the dead (15:12), the occasion of all those statements must be interpreted in light of the letter's own historical and cultural context.

Regarding the specific passages pertaining to "head-coverings," I want to point out my own position, just so I am not misunderstood. Even though I do not personally believe Paul is referring to "head-coverings" in I Cor. 11, I do not believe that women today who wear head-coverings in worship are sinning. In fact, as far as I can tell, it's a public display of their love of obeying God (or what they believe God's Word requires of them). And to that degree, I commend them for holding firm to their personal conviction about the didactic elements of God's Word to them. But I do not believe it is exegetically or historically tenable to argue that such a practice has always been required by God's moral law, and that Paul directed those didactic statements to Christians in Sheboygan, Wisconsin as well; nor do I believe it is reasonable to claim dogmatically that to depart from such a practice is "dangerous" (as you claim on your blog). I believe that teaching the moral duty of such a practice in all christian churches is creating an unnecessarily embarrassing subculture of Christianity which does not edify all christian churches or the families therein. And that which does not edify, ought not to be enforced upon all Christian churches or presented as a standing law for all Christians in public worship.

Concerning your second point, in referencing RC Sproul Sr. as your source of justifying 19 centuries of tradition, his statement that "The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century," is a fabricated construct of his imagination (pun intended). Not only is that not true, historically; it is also almost too broad to qualify with such absolute "universal" certainty. It is far easier to falsify such an exaggerated claim, given the breadth of Christianity throughout history. Of course, Sproul Sr. is notorious for making such broad, sweeping, oversimplified statements to accomplish his own didactic purposes. And I am not surprised that he once made such a statement. I also wouldn't be surprised if he has changed his mind since.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Ohlman also commented about my initial concern, namely his claim that there is one aspect of redemptive historical hermeneutics which, as he says, "rejects the whole cloth rejection of example itself." His comments in that regard are below: 
I think underlying this issue we have a difference of what this method actually is. The book I actually read explaining the redemptive hisotrical method and contrasting it with the previous hermeneutic said two things:
 1) That the old commentators (Calvin et al) did NOT use the redemptive historical method and
 2) That the RH method rejected narrative examples *completely*. 
If either or both of these are wrong, then my source was wrong. The paper you reference was not meant to deal, in detail, with this issue. Nor was it a grand reference paper. It was meant to layout my hermeneutic for dealing with narrative examples. In my book, the Covenant of Betrothal, I propose a whole list of ways in which I believe narrative examples must be examined for their use as normative for us today. I don't know if you had a chance to examine the whole list. 
I have since worked on a larger paper which I can send you if you are interested.

My response to those statements are found below:

Regarding your first point, I don't see how relevant it is for older commentators, such as John Calvin, to have used the Redemptive Historical method of interpreting Scripture in order for it to remain a valid approach. My main point in emphasizing it's validity was to clarify that it does not conflict with theonomic ethics per se, at least not Greg Bahnsen's thesis on theonomic ethics (which you promote on your blog). I may have misunderstood your position, but the statement on your blog against RH clearly inferred a contradiction between RH and theonomic principles of interpretation. In fact, I would argue that RH in connection with Greg Bahnsen's thesis actually helps guard against interpreting historical narratives and didactic passages foolishly as standing laws for all cultures at all times.

Regarding your second point, I believe your source was indeed mistaken. Perhaps that statement was originally written hyperbolically by the author to simplify a contrast with another hermeneutical principle. As you may already know, many faithful reformed theologians such as G. Vos have been been proponents of RH, without needing to reject historical examples completely. Nor, with men like Vos, was there a conflict with theonomic ethics per se. 

Regarding your final statements, I am interested in learning more about your hermeneutical approach to historical narratives. I have read much of the online version of your book, The Covenant of Betrothal, and I didn't consider it to be very clear in regard to hermeneutical principles and guidelines. In fact, I thought the book took far too much for granted. But there is only so much that I am able to gather from the resources on your blog, especially since those resources you provided have not been geared toward explaining my concerns in detail. And so, I'm hopeful that the larger paper you recommended would help provide that much-needed clarity. I will contact you offline for that resource.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Vaughn Ohlman responds

Below is a response to Vaughn Ohlman, the "practical theonomist" who commented on one of my earlier posts regarding his biblical hermeneutic. Vaughn's comments, typos and all, can be found in this post, and are displayed below as well:
I am afraid that you argue against a bit of a straw man here. I do not reject, as you suppose, the idea that "cannot be interpreted as standing laws which are normative for Christians ethics in all generations, but must be interpreted in light of their own redemptive-historical context."

That was not what the issue was. What I reject is the whole-cloth rejection of example itself. Where the Scripture, and the commentators, are free to point to example after example, and even call each of us to be an example for other Christians, the particular view I reject reject all example, everywhere.

I firmly believe that all examples must be taken in their context; altho you and I might disagree as to what that context is and how it applies. But I do not reject context. Indeed I propose it in the very same paper. 
BTW, in as much as the issue of headcoverings is dealt with in a didactic text, and was held pretty uniformly by the Christian church for the first 1900 or so years of its existence, I am a bit surprised that you put it in this context.

Below is my response to Ohlman:

Thanks for commenting. If you're willing, let's keep this dialog going, now that I have your attention. 

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my critique of your position. Perhaps I was mistaken too. If I am mistaken, I will apologize publicly on this forum. And I would hope that your misunderstandings of my position, which are worthy of apology, would be made public as well. But to get to the point of contention, in context, I did not mean to infer that you always interpret historical narratives as standing laws. In fact, I even alluded to the fact that I don't think you always interpret historical narratives that way. But I concluded that in doing so, given your stated rejection of one aspect of redemptive historical interpretation, such would be suspect of arbitrariness, and even inconsistency insofar as it is indeed arbitrary. 

I also did not mean to infer that you deny the validity of examples being "taken in their context." My contention was two fold, the one leading into the other: 

First, your claim about one aspect of "redemptive historical" methodology contradicting second Tim. 3 16-17 is simply not true, either logically or "methodologically." And you don't explain, anywhere in your writings, in what way there is a logical contradiction. You merely state it. That was the first red flag which I noticed. Furthermore, I only mentioned that "historical narratives per se cannot be interpreted as standing laws which are normative for Christian ethics in all generations..." The "per se" part is important for understanding my argument properly. I too reject the whole-cloth rejection of example itself, yet I don't think your specific rejection of one aspect of "redemptive historical" methodology justifies your claim that it "contradicts" first timothy 3:16-17.

Second, from a theonomic hermeneutic, of which I consider myself a student (particularly of Bahnsen's methodology, with minor reservations), I can confidently say that Bahnsen's approach to hermeneutics in connection with theonomic ethics most certainly does not comport with yours regarding courtship/marriage, head-coverings for women, and absolute patriarchal authority. And keep in mind that my second point, following from the first, was that Bahnsen actually critiques important aspects of your *official* position on courtship/marriage, head-coverings, and patriarchal authority as being inconsistent in principle. His hermeneutics course explains the necessity, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the one aspect of redemptive historical methodology which you apparently reject. If you have not studied that course, you may want to consider doing so as long as you endorse Greg Bahsnen's works of theonomy in Christian ethics. His course on Biblical hermeneutics ties them both together. 

Yes, you and I may disagree as to what the "biblical context" is concerning a historical narrative, and we might even disagree with how it applies. (I happen to be fascinated with narrative criticism, and so I realize there may be huge disagreements between us in that area alone.) But logically, either one of us is right, or we're both wrong. We can't both be right if our hermeneutical convictions are diametrically opposed. And I think it's embarrassing to endorse Greg Bahnsen's methodology, and even the "Redemptive historical" methodology, and yet reach some of the sweeping conclusions that you propose publicly. You make all sorts of sweeping generalizations (i.e. logical fallacies) throughout your writings, particularly in issues which treat historical narratives as teaching or endorsing normative Christian ethics. 

Take, for an example, your last sweeping generalization. You wrote, saying that "the issue of head coverings ...was held pretty uniformly by the Christian church for the first 1900 years of its existence." Well, are you absolutely sure about that? Or are you just "pretty" sure? Was it 1900 years or 1900 "or so" years? 

And with the widespread range of Christianity in world history, at what point (or percentage) does its practice in history justify it's validity for normative practice?  In your view, at what point (or percentage) does a particular practice constitute "uniformity" -- especially enough uniformity to justify it's normativity for Christian ethics today? If 1900 years of future history within the Christian church contained less "uniformity" to that particular practice, would that invalidate it's essential normativity for Christian ethics? If not, why bother mentioning 1900 years of it being "pretty uniform" in the first place? My own position is that, even if there were 1900 years of "pretty uniform" practice of headcoverings in Christian worship (which is a nebulous proposition to begin with), that history does not prove normativity for Christian ethics today, or in the future. 

And what evidence do you have to support such a sweeping claim about uniformity, which scholars such as Fee, Witherington III, Keener, Morris, and Plummer missed? In fact, Fee makes very clear in his commentary (NICNT) that there is great uncertainty about prevailing customs such as "headcoverings" among Christians, Jews, and Gentile unbelievers within 1st century Greek and Jewish culture. Yes, there is evidence of a post-100A.D. traditional tallith being worn among Jews on certain occasions, such as at weddings, funerals, and prayer. But it is not true, historically, that Jewish and Greek women were always veiled in public, and the argument that they ought to have been is just as lousy as arguing for it in private. We simply don't have cogent evidence of such sweeping claims (which others have made, embarrassingly). It's conjecture. You can cite Nicodemus ben Gorion and the Targum's values all you want (as you did in your article on headcoverings), but there is evidence to the contrary as well. "Headcoverings," according to Oepke (TWOT) and other 1st century scholars, was a custom that varied widely, and therefore can hardly provide support for Paul endorsing it as normative for Christian ethics for all time and in all "christian" cultures. We certainly do not find it as a requirement within God's Law, nor do we find it as a liturgical or civil illustration of God's moral law, which makes me wonder why theonomists today would mistakenly assume that Paul's "didactic" text is requiring the same for all Christian cultures. Again, as I said in my first post, the historical narratives per se cannot be interpreted as standing laws which are normative for Christians ethics in all generations, but must be interpreted in light of their own redemptive-historical context.

Furthermore, there is actually very, very, very, little evidence that Greek women ever wore "headcoverings" outside of liturgical service. (Older opinions of scholars in favor of such a regular practice have been subject to scrutiny because of more recent archeological discoveries.) And by "liturgical service," I do not mean mere attendance at a worship service. I mean actual liturgical offering of a "sacrifice," a public oracle, etc. But it is precisely there that we run into further problems of 1st century Corinthian culture -- problems which conflict with your argument in favor of "1900 or so years" of headcoverings as being normative for Christian ethics. If your argument is based upon I Cor. 11, modern research shows that both women and men wore head coverings in liturgical worship, and we have evidence of the opposite too. (See Witherington's socio-rhetorical commentary.) And so, in order to argue that such a "didactic text" as I Cor. 11 (as you said) provides justification for believing that specific practice spoken of by Paul was held "pretty uniformly" by the Christian church for the following 1900 years, you need to provide a LOT more evidence other than mere claims of such, and that evidence needs to comport with the 1st century Corinthian context. You ought not pick and choose what is convenient from historical opinion, whether it's the opinions of Matthew Henry, John Gill, John Calvin, or Nicodemus ben Gorion, and construct a morally obligatory "christianized" custom which did not exist "uniformly" in that culture at that time. Paul even says, at the end of that "didactic text," that "If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God." 

I thought your position-paper on headcoverings (to which I linked for everyone to study for themselves) was, in fact, a helpful example for others to study and compare in context. That is why I mentioned it in my original post.

In fact, I don't think I would have even mentioned it if you didn't begin your position paper with the following dogmatic statement:
Except for the last hundred years or so, the church has always been in agreement that women should worship with their heads covered, as, indeed the Christian custom was that women should have their heads covered generally.
However recently much of the church in the 'developed' world has abandoned this belief. Instead they teach that the passage was purely cultural, teaches only about long hair, or is irrelevant in some other way. This belief is new and, in my opinion, is, like any other departure from Scripture, dangerous.

Since you seem to be so sure about these truth claims, what evidence do you have to offer the public for supporting a "pretty uniform" practice of head coverings, from the time of Paul in Corinth, for the following 1900 years of Christian worship? 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Better to marry than to burn

Christians often interpret Paul's statement in I Cor. 7:9 (i.e. "it's better to marry than to burn") as though, as a general rule, it's better to get married hastily than to be consumed with sexual passion. But as Gordon Fee points out,1 Paul does not say (as the ESV & NIV translate it), "if they cannot exercise self control, it's better to marry than to burn with passion." Rather, in the Greek, Paul says, "if they are not exercising self control (i.e. practicing continence), it's better to marry than to burn with passion."

In context, Paul is referring to those people in Corinth who are doing the same sorts of things as some of the married couples in verses 1-7 are tempted to do, i.e. indulging in sexual immorality.

And as Fee also points out, the formation of clubs which associated with and indulged in cultic prostitution is but one example of a very common sin throughout Corinthian culture, and Paul alludes to that association two other times in this first epistle to the Corinthians. The antidote for such deeply rooted  sinful practices, Paul says, is marriage. Fee notes carefully: 
In this case, then, Paul is not so much offering marriage as the remedy for sexual desire of 'enflamed youth,' which is the most common way of viewing the text, but as the proper alternative for those who are already consumed by that desire and are sinning.

Leon Morris's comments are in complete agreement with Fee. Commenting on verse 9, he writes:
But this depends on their having the gift of continence. If God has not given them this gift, they should marry (a command, not a permission), for it is better to marry than to burn. NIV adds with passion, which yields a good sense and may well be right. But the verb could be understood of burning in Gehenna, and this is supported by the fact that there is no cannot in the original; the Greek means 'if they are not living continently.' Paul has recently said that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:9-10).2

Archibald Robertson comments on the meaning conveyed by the active/middle voice of this verb which Paul uses here for "exercising self-control". He writes: 
What is meant by this failure to have power over themselves is partly explained by εγκρατευονται (present tense in both verbs). A prolonged and painful struggle seems to be intended, a condition quite fatal to spiritual peace and growth.3
Ben Witherington's comments on 1st century Corinthian culture also support Fee's observations. He writes: 
Because of work or because of arranged marriages, Romans frequently looked outside the home for pleasure and for much else that we would associate with home and family. ...A good deal of this background information comes into play in 1 Corinthians 7 because of the household setting of the ekklesia.4  
He concludes with these remarks: 
The repeated theme of sexual passion or misconduct and, in response, Paul's stress on self-control (cf. vv 2, 5, 9, 36, 37) probably tells us more about the problems in Corinth than about Paul's view of the purposes of marriage.5 

And finally, the comments of Charles Hodge are succinct concerning the importance of interpreting these statements within a first century Corinthian context. Commenting on verses 9 & 10, he writes:
If these verses and others of like import, are to be understood of men generally, and not of men in the peculiar circumstances of the early Christians, then it must be admitted that Paul depreciates marriage, and that he represents it as scarcely having any higher end than the sexual intercourse of brutes. This cannot be his meaning; not only because it is contrary to Scripture, but also because Paul elsewhere, Eph. 5:22-33, represents marriage as a most ennobling spiritual union. ...This must therefore be borne in mind in the interpretation of this whole chapter.6

1.  Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987], p. 288-9
2.  Leon Morris, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: I Corinthians [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985], p. 105. Emphasis in bold is mine.
3.  Archibald Robertson, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975], p. 139
4.  Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995], p.173
5.  Ibid., pp. 176
6.  Charles Hodge, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974 reprint], pp. 111-2. Italics mine.