Tag Archives: Theology

Review: Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, & Bobby Haircuts

Author: Michael F. Bird is an Australian New Testament scholar and author of many books. His books and teachings mainly pertain to core Christian doctrines such as justification, Jesus’ divinity, and Jesus’ messiahship.

Overview

Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, & Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Equality in Ministry (2012) is Michael F. Bird’s defense of women in ministry, including a brief account of how he changed his mind on this issue.

In describing why he changed his mind, Bird cites two growing concerns he had: 1) Paul’s co-workers in the gospel included many women; 2) Prohibitions on women in Bird’s church far exceeded those of Scripture, and women were forbidden even from leading songs at co-ed small group meetings.

Then Bird breaks the false dichotomy by showing that there is a spectrum of opinions involving women in leadership.

Though the back cover uses the phrase “taking a stand”, Bird’s position in this debate is stubbornly moderate—I was going to say, annoyingly moderate. His exposition of key texts will not satisfy complementarians or thoroughgoing egalitarians. (Bird opts for the more conventional terminology here, though I prefer the more transparent terms, hierarchicalist and mutualist.)

Like complementarians, Bird allows that men hold authority in households, since “man is the head of the woman”. He tempers this by stating that the New Testament household codes are all framed by commands involving mutual submission. In Bird’s view, this transforms—but does not negate—male headship.

Like egalitarians, Bird allows that many women ministered, taught, and preached alongside Paul, and the two key prohibitions (1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:13) are not transcultural. Though he considers himself a moderate egalitarian, I’ll discuss ways that his position on these passages differs from many or most egalitarians.

Key Passages

Bird states that passages like 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 (on veiling women during worship), 1 Corinthians 14:34–36 (on women remaining silent in church), and 1 Timothy 2:11–15 (on women “teaching or exerting authority”) relate to local social and spiritual conditions, and are not mandates for all churches in all time. But that does not make them irrelevant.

1 Corinthians 11:2–16

In 1 Corinthians 11, a number of befuddling statements are made involving women wearing (or not wearing) veils during Christian worship. Bird points out that this passage cannot be used to silence women in church, since it states that women may “pray and prophesy” publicly, if they meet the conditions of appropriateness and modesty.

He argues throughout the booklet that, though Paul appeals to the creation order, veils were clearly related to local customs regarding modesty. This connection between the creation order and local custom is an important one for Bird, because this can determine how we treat both 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2.

Bird does not require any special pleading or wrangling of the text. He simply states that in this passage “Paul intends to correct male behavior just as much as female behavior” (p. 25). Paul mentions Christ as the head of man and then the husband as head of the wife, but he is not setting a “chain of command” according to Bird:

There is indeed a hierarchy of relations between the persons mentions in the various couplets [1 Cor. 11:3], but one that must also be understood in light of the gospel, where Paul affirms mutuality, reciprocity, and the value of others in the relationships that characterize the new creation.

Michael F. Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts, p. 25

1 Corinthians 14:34–36

On 1 Corinthians 14:34–36, Bird does not adopt either the “interpolation” argument or the “quotation” argument, often appealed to by egalitarians. But he points out that 1 Corinthians 14:34 blatantly contradicts 1 Corinthians 11:5, in which women can pray and prophesy. The weight of evidence seems to show that women can pray and prophesy (and teach) in public worship. But Bird (p. 29) writes that this passage relates to the relation of husbands and wives during public worship. (Incidentally, Tyndale translates 1 Corinthians 14:34 this way, but no other major English translation has done so.)

1 Timothy 2:11–15

Bird is not satisfied by the most common arguments on either extreme concerning this passage. Complementarians would say that it is transcultural and women cannot teach or lead men in spiritual ministry. Egalitarians frequently appeal to the local Artemis cult, which was led by women, as a source of false teaching and social issues in the Ephesian church where Timothy led. This second argument was popularized by the Kroegers’ book I Suffer Not a Woman (1994), but Bird writes that it was disproven by Steven Baugh. (He does not elaborate.)

Instead, Bird writes that women were involved in some heresy that involved a deviant view of creation. In my opinion, Bird is taking the same scheme as the Kroegers’ book but omitting all reference to Artemis. He chooses this stance, however, as a way of privileging the text over speculation about historical context.

Firmly choosing the middle of the road, Bird tempers all this by stating that Paul still prohibited women from ministry in Ephesus, and so there is a transcultural principle that must be gleaned from that. We cannot simply dismiss passages that are transcultural.

How Important Is It?

In his conclusion, Bird states that this is a second-order issue, not a first-order issue. Affirming women in ministry should not bar us from fellowship with those who reject them. In their 1991 edited volume, Grudem and Piper disagree, stating this is a first-order issue (meaning that they would not hold fellowship with those who disagree!).

It is strange to me that Grudem puts not preparing women for leadership on the level of Jesus’ messiahship, the Trinity, the gospel of salvation, the authority of Scripture, and the forgiveness of sins.

Conclusion

Finally, I would like to mention the difficulties of the position chosen by Bird.

There are logical difficulties attached to a moderate position, which is perhaps why it is seldom defended. What does it mean to affirm husband’s headship and women as leaders? Are the church and the home to be treated as totally separate spheres? If women are creationally unfit to lead the home, how are they fit to lead the church? Conversely, they can make decisions for the church, which is made up of many families, why can’t they make decisions for their own family?

Bird handles the biblical text quite well and covers quite a bit of the contemporary textual arguments found in the academy—and that in a very short space. He brings up some fantastic points about 1 Corinthians 11, but that section did leave me wanting more, since the passage is so obfuscated. Personally, I admire Lucy Peppiatt’s treatment of this passage; in my opinion, Bird does not have adequate space in this small book to address its manifold difficulties.

I’m also a tad annoyed at the typos that appeared in this staple-bound booklet from Zondervan. It was originally only an ebook.

It would be great to hear Bird again on these issues. He is an engaging and persuasive writer, and this is an impressively tactful treatment of a moderate egalitarian position.

Review: Women and Worship at Corinth

Author: Lucy Peppiatt is an evangelical charismatic minister, theologian, and principal of Westminster Theological Centre in Cheltenham, England. She has pastored churches in the Church of England alongside her husband, Nick Crawley. Her research focuses on the Trinity, 1 Corinthians, and Paul’s view on women.

Full title: Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians

Overview:

Women and Worship at Corinth (2015) may be the most intriguing book-length contribution to the Christian theological debate on women’s roles since the Kroegers’ I Suffer Not a Woman (1992). It is a thorough defense of the idea that Paul was quoting his opponents at certain points in 1 Corinthians 11; thus, the passage about head coverings for women is a Corinthian argument Paul is opposing, not a command he is giving them. An overview of her argument is available from the OnScript podcast.

The setting of 1 Corinthians

On 1 Corinthians as a whole, Peppiatt writes:

The letter is written to admonish the Corinthians for ways in which they have begun to depart from Paul’s original teaching and practices, and is a response to their reply to his original epistle.

Woman and Worship at Corinth, p. 2

This means that there is a lot of missing context, and—like the similarly problematic passage in 1 Timothy 2—commentators and preachers resort to (rampant?) speculation with regard to the church situation Paul is responding to. In both passages (1 Cor. 11, 1 Tim. 2), Pauline teaching on women seemingly contradicts Pauline practice (e.g., Rom. 16, Acts 18).

In this book, Peppiatt defends what she calls a “rhetorical reading” of both 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34–36, asserting that Paul is quoting his opponents in both passages. She is not dogmatic, however, and begins the discussion by freely admitting her biases. She writes that even a “flat” reading of these texts is circumscribed by the limits of the reader’s imagination in reconstructing the context, and thus, there is no unproblematic (“literal”) way to read the text without coping with contradictions and difficulties (contra, among others, David Pawson).

What is the rhetorical reading?

It is already universally accepted that [Paul] quotes some Corinthian slogans in 1 Corinthians in order to make a point. These verses include 6:12, 13; 7:1; 8:1, 8:4; 10:23; and 15:12.

Women and Worship at Corinth, p. 4

A rhetorical reading of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 will be unfamiliar to some readers, but we know that quotations were not always signalled by ancient writers, and that Paul quotes others many times in 1 Corinthians. A rhetorical reading in 1 Corinthians 14:34–36 has also been proposed convincingly for some decades.[1] Here I’ve bolded the verse where Paul is apparently quoting his opponents. The disjunction is obvious in verse 36.[2]

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

1 Corinthians 14:34–36, KJV, emphasis added to show proposed quotations

Given a rhetorical reading of 1 Corinthians 14:34–36, it is likely that Paul was dealing with some sort of misogynism in the church at Corinth (unlike those at Philippi and Ephesus, where women apparently held great influence). If we follow the “flat” reading of both passages, Paul truly intended for women to be veiled, at least in Corinth, during Christian worship, in which they pray and prophesy (11:5); but he also (somewhat confusingly) instructs women to be silent in church (14:34). The overlapping contradictions in these chapters, along with their contradictions to the early church’s recorded practices, require further explanations, and Peppiatt points out that scholars are routinely confused by many aspects 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.

A rhetorical reading of 1 Corinthians 11 was first proposed by Thomas Shoemaker in 1987, in a single “underdeveloped” article. Peppiatt has fleshed this out and found that quite a few contradictions result from a “flat” reading of 1 Corinthians 11.

Below is 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, showing the proposed quotations from Pauline opponents in bold.

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. 13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

1 Corinthians 11:2–16, emphasis added to show proposed quotations

Why do we need a rhetorical reading of this passage?

  1. Paul himself had long hair when he was in Corinth. Why then would he condemn long hair in men?
  2. Paul contradicts himself within the passage: Are men independent of women, or are they interdependent?
  3. Paul contradicts his own words later in the letter: Do women have to stay silent, or can they pray and prophesy with correct attire?
  4. “Apostleship for Paul is marked by public dishonor and disgrace.” (p. 70) Why then does Paul appeal to shame and honor? Did he not say in the same letter that the apostles were disgraced before angels (1 Cor. 4:8–13)?
  5. Even if we believed this was motivated by some local custom, historians do not point to any coherent custom in ancient Corinth regarding veils or hair.
  6. Paul does quote his opponents elsewhere. “In sum, it seems that Paul does quote texts from others when composing his letters, and that he does not always signal those overtly with written cues . . .” (Campbell’s Deliverance, p. 541).
  7. Paul mentioned the headship of Christ over men first. The order is not insignificant.
  8. Paul used the word “nevertheless” (Gk. πλήν) in between two apparently contradictory passages.
  9. Practically no church obeys the letter of 1 Corinthians 11, even though its argumentation is apparently rooted in the creation order, and therefore—according to Lucy Peppiatt and Michael Lakey—its commands should be considered transcultural if we choose the flat reading of the text.
  10. Interpreting male headship as meaning “authority” (in v. 3) requires us to apply the same language to the Trinity, which leads to eternal functional subordination (EFS), which has been historically condemned as heresy.
  11. Finally, we have no idea what is meant by the phrase, “because of the angels”! The line of thought drops off quite abruptly.

One final note

In his booklet on the topic, Michael F. Bird writes that 1 Corinthians 11 cannot be used to keep women out of ministry anyway, because the point of the passage is that women can “pray and prophesy” publicly if they follow culturally appropriate guidelines of modesty and unostentatiousness.


For more on this topic, see Peppiatt’s 2019 book, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts, which is a more thorough defense of Christian egalitarianism.


[1] Pepiatt cites: Allison, “Let the Women Be Silent in the Churches” (1988); Flanagan and Snyder, “Did Paul Put Down Women in 1 Cor 14:34–36?” (1981); Manus, “The Subordination of Women in the Church: 1 Cor 14:33b–36 Reconsidered”; Odell-Scott, “In Defence of an Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor 14:34–36″ (1987).

[2] Some scholars, such as Murphy-O’Connor, have also argued that a scribe who disagreed with Paul added the bit about silencing women in 1 Corinthians 14:34–35; thus, it is a scribal “interpolation”. This is supported by some manuscripts in which the verse order is rearranged, with verses 34 and 35 being moved after verse 40 (though verses 34 and 35 are never omitted in the existing manuscript tradition). Odell-Scott argues that this was a scribal re-arrangement which lent to us a more positive interpretation of the verses about silencing women.

Review: Jacob and the Divine Trickster

Rating: ★★★★

Author: John E. Anderson is a Lutheran Old Testament scholar. Jacob and the Divine Trickster is Anderson’s dissertation written at Baylor and published with the recommendation of Walter Brueggemann.

Genre: Academic theology, narrative theology.

Overview: Jacob and the Divine Trickster is a theological study of the Jacob cycle. Anderson is primarily concerned with theology proper and not with textual-critical issues. The introduction sets up a challenge for readers who try to iron out tensions in the biblical text. In particular, Anderson believes that God is unquestionably implicated in several deceptive acts in Genesis—although the heavy term ‘deception’ is somewhat lightened in his definition towards “withholding information.”

Anderson develops this idea of cunning as a divine attribute, boldly referring to Jehovah as a “trickster God.” I agree, however, with Diana Lipton’s review:

Even if I can come to terms with the idea that God tricks people, I cannot see tricksterism (this may be the wrong term but no better one comes to mind) as a divine attribute, as Anderson seems to.

The key to Anderson’s book is that he catalogues all the ways that the Lord worked for Jacob, in fulfillment of the ancestral promises (in Gen. 12 and 28). This overall optimistic assessment of Jacob will prove to have staying power, I believe, if we can accept the Eastern understanding of ethics given to us in Genesis.

Meat:

Anderson follows the lead of Walter Brueggemann, Eric Seibert, and others in addressing ethical difficulties in the Old Testament head on. Whereas a fundamentalist take would ignore difficulties and systematic theologians cancel them out, Anderson chooses to lean into the difficulties he encounters in the text.

Although its main thesis is overstated in my opinion, the book is an important contribution, as it challenges 1) interpretations that assess Jacob’s deceptive behavior negatively; 2) interpretations that seek to distance God from Jacob’s behavior, when God is real and present in the Genesis text, ensuring the fulfillment of his promise.

A simple review like this doesn’t provide space for the many interesting points in the book. But I can pose some questions evoked while reading this book:

  • If Jacob’s repeated deception of Esau was immoral, would God have allowed him to obtain divine blessing by those means? (Is God’s blessing really so mechanistic that you could obtain godly blessing in an ungodly way?!)
  • Can we trust Jacob’s statement (in 27:20) that the Lord helped him to deceive his father? What if Isaac was in the wrong anyway?
  • What about 31:5, 7, and 9, where Jacob says God is working on his behalf against Laban?
  • Are Jacob’s deceptive acts ethically difficult for non-Western readers? Wouldn’t many Asians see him as merely cunning, a guy with street smarts, who knows how to be in the right place at the right time?

Bones:

Anderson’s book brings up a major ethical problem: is Jacob really immoral, or is it our European ethical framework that cause us to place limitations on the text? Anderson doesn’t answer this question for contemporary readers, in my opinion. He does pretty convincingly argue, though, that the Bible itself does not make excuses for Jacob’s deceptive acts.

Review: The Knowledge of the Holy

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: A. W. Tozer was an American pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. In addition to the books that he wrote during his lifetime—of which the most famous are The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy—hundreds of his sermons have been preserved for us and published in various forms. He also wrote many short articles as editor of the Alliance Weekly, seen for instance in Of God and Men and Born After Midnight. He is Arminian in theology, but mystical in outlook.

Genre: Devotional, theology proper.

Overview:

Tozer makes a statement in the introduction of this book that encapsulates the meaning and importance of theology proper for every believer:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. (p. 1)

After this challenge, he handles attributes of God one by one in 23 chapters, each of which has been carefully distilled.

Theology proper was the task of a lifetime for Tozer. In addition to The Knowledge of the Holy, he has numerous sermons and sermon series on God’s attributes, some of which have also been published in book form. His Attributes of God series goes into more detail on specific theological questions. Of them all, however, The Knowledge of the Holy is the clearest and the best.

Tozer sees theology as leading us first and foremost to worship. As such, his book only takes on controversial topics as they tend to the kindling of renewed faith. He is the consummate devotional writer: which is to say, his goal in his writings and sermons is always to lead his listeners and readers to worship.

Meat:

The first chapter, “Why We Must Think Rightly about God,” is an obvious high point.

A high point in this book for me was Tozer’s Arminian explanation of “The Sovereignty of God.” He writes that we may know with certainty that a steamer is bound for Boston without knowing who will be on the steamer; in the same way, we know that the “elect” are going to heaven, but who is included in the “elect” is a matter subject to change over time. This explanation should be lucid and helpful to most Arminians.

Bones:

After the introductory chapters (1-4), Tozer spends five chapters introducing theology proper in a kind of Classical framework, which is obviously influenced by Greek philosophical thought. Although there is very little that I take issue with in chapters 5 through 10, the framework is based on systematic philosophical concerns. I think it could have been a more biblically grounded, rather than systematically grounded.

Probably the hardest thought of all for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. . . . The God who worketh all things surely needs no help and no helpers. Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God.

While this is clear enough in systematic theology, it is not so clear in biblical theology. One of the misconceptions of Job’s friends (42:8) was that they believed that God puts no trust in his servants (4:18-19, 15:15-16). On the contrary, the theatrical frame for the Book of Job leads us to believe that God puts too much trust in his servants. God isn’t flippant concerning our spiritual outcomes; both Testaments lead us to the conclusion that he is truly invested—if anything, more invested than we ourselves are.

Quotes:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. (p. 1)

The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid—that is the paradox of faith.

God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.

The Creation of the Angels

In pulses deep of threefold Love,
Self-hushed and self-possessed,
The mighty, unbeginning God
Had lived in silent rest.
With His own greatness all alone
The sight of Self had been
Beauty of beauties, joy of joys,
Before His eye serene.
He lay before Himself, and gazed
As ravished with the sight,
Brooding on His own attributes
With dread untold delight.
No ties were on His bliss, for He
Had neither end nor cause;
For His own glory ’twas enough
That He was what He was.
His glory was full grown;
His light Had owned no dawning dim;
His love did not outgrow Himself,
For naught could grow in Him.
He stirred—and yet we know not how
Nor wherefore He should move;
In our poor human words, it was
An overflow of love.
It was the first outspoken word
That broke that peace sublime,
An outflow of eternal love
Into the lap of time.
He stirred; and beauty all at once
Forth from His Being broke;
Spirit and strength, and living life,
Created things awoke.
Order and multitude and light
In beauteous showers outstreamed;
And realms of newly-fashioned space
With radiant angels beamed.
How wonderful is life in Heaven
Amid the angelic choirs,
Where uncreated Love has crowned
His first created fires!
But, see! new marvels gather there!
The wisdom of the Son
With Heaven’s completest wonder ends
The work so well begun.