In Part II of “Being a Biblical Theologian,” I would like to give an example of what with which I ended Part I of this post. First, let me say that, some years ago, I came to the conclusion that there is much “Bible abuse” happening. “Bible abuse” occurs when a passage or passages are used to justify a position when said passages are not doing so. “Bible abuse” frequently occurs when a passage is not seen in the light of the circumstances to which it was written. Let me give what I believe is an example.
In my formative years, I was taught that Scripture prohibited a woman from being a pastor or an elder. There are two passages in Paul’s first letter to Timothy which were used to justify the position that only a man and not a woman can be a pastor. The first one is found in what he says are the characteristics of an elder/pastor (I Timothy 3:2). Paul says, “…the husband of one wife.” The argument, then, is that this prohibits a woman from being an elder or pastor. What I find interesting, though, is that many who hold to this view have no problem with a single male being a pastor. What happened to the married part of this characteristic being a requirement? Inconsistent much?
What if we look at Paul’s words through the lens of the specific situation of the church at Ephesus, which is where Timothy is located? What if one of two situations was Timothy’s reality? The first one is that there were both men and women elders but it was only the male version which was having issues with fidelity since it was commonplace in that culture for men to have not only a wife but also mistresses and other lovers. If this were the case, why would Paul address a situation which did not need addressing? I don’t think he would waste time and precious resources to do so.
What if there were only men who were elders in the church at that time? It really doesn’t change the situation much because, again, Paul was speaking to a specific situation, not trying to address all conceivable situations. If we look at Paul’s words through either one of these situations, would how we view/interpret his words change in how we use them to give application in our time? I think we would; I know I did.
The second passage is I Timothy 2:11-12: “Let a woman learn in quietness in all subjection; but I do not permit a woman to teach or to assert authority over a man, but to be in quietness.” This passage is used as a support against women in ministry. What I find interesting, though, is that Paul tells the Corinthian believers something different about proper actions of women in the public assembly. In Corinthians 11, he talks about how a woman can properly pray and prophesy in the gathering of the church. Why would he tell Timothy one thing and the church in Corinth something different? Could it have something to do with the differing situations found in each locale? I can think of no other reason, for Paul was not a stupid man and would not give what would be contradictory teaching, unless it was because both sets of instructions were given with a specific circumstance and reality in view.
And that is what is happening in Ephesus. There was a heretical teaching which was entering the church in Ephesus through the women because those who were proponents of this teaching were preying upon the women because most of them lacked proper education to know how it was wrong. Therefore, due to this situation, Paul gives his instruction to Timothy. I am of the firm belief that if it had been men upon whom these proponents were preying, Paul’s instructions would not have been against allowing women to teach, but men.
So, does viewing this passage in this light change how this passage is applied? I think so.
It is so important when approaching a specific passage of Scripture to no impose upon it a certain view or theological position. It also is important to not “reason” away where the passage is truly leading.
I pray that each one of us allow God’s word, through the insight of the Holy Spirit, to lead us where God wants us to go as we deeply study.