Wednesday, April 09, 2008


To teach someone what the Bible says is a serious thing. James 3:1 clearly shows that, should one undertake to do so, it should be done with seriousness and the knowledge of greater accountability. It is in that spirit that I approach my next several posts.

I want to begin by simply pointing out that culture does impact interpretation of scripture and well it should. It is a major principle of hermeneutics [principles for biblical interpretation] that you understand the culture [history] of the sacred writings. It is that culture that gives understanding, to some degree, to the words of the text. Suppose I tell someone of my culture that I rode a 'hog' to the cafe to eat supper. A later generation might argue over whether pigs should be eaten or ridden and might accuse the other side of not being fit for fellowship-- unless --they know that my culture understands a 'hog' can be a reference to a motorcycle and may not be referring to an actual animal being eaten OR ridden. So it is with understanding the culture into which the scriptures were given by inspiration. That culture impacts our seeing what the intended meaning really is.

That said, it remains for the interpreter, under guidance from the Spirit, to use all the tools necessary to fully understand the grammar, syntax, history, context, and guidance of the Spirit to get to that original meaning. But two things I do wish to say here...

#1 --The goal of interpretation of scripture is not to find what no-one else has ever found but to discover and disclose the true meaning of the text. However, an interpretation may seem unique to one who has never seen it according to Fee and Stuart in their "How to Read The Bible For All It's Worth." [p. 14] I can truthfully say I do not remember ever seeing the new meaning of a verse that someone else has not caused me to investigate with their new [new to me] insight. I do trust my final conclusion is NOT because they said it but that I see it in the text. To give credit to a person for my understanding of a verse would be impossible as much as I would like to speak of a James I Packer, Gordon Fee, John Reisinger, Jon Zens, David Johnson, Cheryl Schatz and a host of others. [Ancient writers I could have mentioned and the new ones I did mention.]

#2--You do not have to be a bible scholar to understand the scriptures. Any Christian does have an unction [anointing] from the Holy One [1 John 2:20] and is able to come to some understanding of the bible on his/her own. I would say it is good to use any available tool/teacher/method one might choose and to hold conclusions lightly allowing them to be confirmed by godly people along the way. All the time remembering it is possible to get lost in the forest [scriptures] while looking at the trees [doctrines] and, unless willing to find a high place to get the big picture of the whole forest, [scriptures] you may not find your way to Truth as I will show in a moment.

That leads to another rule/principle for proper interpretation and that is that no one verse or passage can be interpreted alone. It must be seen, as the Scofield Reference Notes accurately points out when referencing 11 Peter 1:20, the 'no private interpretation' means 'It's own interpretation, i.e. not isolated from all the Word has given elsewhere.' This principle will be very important in correctly seeing a couple of passages that, on the surface or taken by themselves, would seem to lead to a doctrine [tree] condemning women to never saying anything for all time in the Church. Another single passage that seems to say, on the surface, the woman has another head [authority] other than Christ who is the Head of the Church. Is that what was originally meant by these few passages? [Trees] We shall see as we look at the whole of the scriptures. [Forest].

So we begin with a need for the context of the whole of scripture on this 'woman' issue that has resulted in these feeble words of mine on women in the Church and life in general. My first post spoke of the well known clash between Egalitarians and Fundamentalists/Complementarians over roles of women in scripture and even discrimination against women in some religious circles. But my purpose in later posts will not be to prove one view or the other [remember I don't like labels] but, rather, to speak of a better understanding of the view of the whole of scripture with regards to women in the Church and in life in general. My goal is to look from a high ground biblical perspective at God's intention and purpose for male/female relationships and particularly the female's freedom and value because of creation and redemption through Christ and her subsequent value to the Church and in the world. Let me say it clearly here.....

No voice will ever speak of the equality and value of women more clearly or present the personal freedom and joy that comes in being female than will the voice that proclaims the meaning of scripture as God originally intended it in regards to women, be that voice male or female. The gospel really does set captives free whether it is one enslaved to sin or men.

Our first big picture view next time.

Paul B.


Lin said...

"So it is with understanding the culture into which the scriptures were given by inspiration. That culture impacts our seeing what the intended meaning really is."

Great example with the 'hog'.

"The gospel really does set captives free whether it is one enslaved to sin or men."

Well, amen to this! I look forward to the next installment.

Paul Burleson said...


I've been told the key to good blog posting is to make them short and readable. I don't know about that...but I do know I've got a book going in my study of this subject and am finding myself only able to put up a few paragraphs at a time if I DO keep it short. I'm not sure of the continuity of it all by any means. I hope this thing flies. We'll see I guess.

Thanks for stopping by.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Pastor Paul,
Thank you for your kind words about me. I feel very honored.

I often think that when we look at scripture we don’t work hard enough to understand the culture of the day that gave a far different meaning to the words than our 21st century mindset. In my efforts to better understand the context by understanding the culture, I have found myself with my nose in books about the Jewish way of thinking such as John Lightfoot’s commentaries from the Talmud and Hebraica and the Talmud itself. What I learned really stretched me and opened up the scriptures in areas that I had not understood before. It also helped me to discard faulty traditions. I also came to understand why Jesus was so harsh with the Jewish leaders calling them white-washed tombs filled with dead man’s bones. Some of the things that I read in the Talmud made me physically ill and knowing that the ones who practiced these things were the religious leaders of the day who often came face to face with Jesus, it helped me to understand why Jesus criticized these religious leaders.

Context can also show us the answer that is already there right under our nose. We just need to take off the cultural blinders. I liked your point about being willing to listen to others. When we remain humble and teachable we keep ourselves open to truth. Those who cannot afford to be open because of their position are to be pitied. I heard a quote the other day that really rings true to me. “There is no way of proving your point to someone whose income or position depends on believing the contrary.”

Paul Burleson said...


I'm serious about how much your study and research helped me personally. You have a knack for looking at the cultural usage of scriptural language and now I see why. Keep it up.

I do believe the historical failure of the Church [my part of the Body called Baptist certainly] to lead the way initially in seeing the evils of slavery has been repeated in NOT leading the way in seeing the position biblically on the equality of women in the Kingdom of God, and, yes, I do believe they are very similiar.

I personally am committed to the truth of the text on this issue as never before. I think it is that important. Though I've been on this particular journey theologically for some twenty years now, you have been a real help of late. Thanks.

bryan riley said...


If you have any material that you've done on hermeneutics that you could email me I'd love it. Or at least keep writing here. This is "edifying to the hearers."

Paul Burleson said...


I do not have anything in print at this time about any subject.

But as old as I'm getting, the day may come when my traveling will be less and, being married to an Executive Editor, I may take full advantage of that to get in print a number of things. I'm even considering a book series called "Vital Truth About...." [A take on Warren Wiersbie's series.] Would't that be a hoot. I kinda like the idea.

Thanks for asking and thanks for all you're presently doing in ministry.

Bob Cleveland said...


I had a couple posts I put up related to this, over the last 10 days or so. One of them dealt widely with prejudice, including both gender and race. I found myself in a serious discussion with one of my SS members this morning, who still felt constrained via viewing Paul's statement, to Timothy, as to what he (Paul) didn't allow, as applying to everybody everywhere forever. The expressed fear was "taking liberties" with the word, and was IMO fueled by all the years of same-old same-old you hear in SBC churches.

Strangely, it was a young lady doing the arguing.

I doubt we will EVER know the extent to which we have shackled a lot of capable women with fetters that never will be broken in this life.

I hadn't thought about that before.

Paul Burleson said...


I have a few friends that struggle with what to make of the passages in question too. One is on my BOT for Vital Truth Ministries. [Truth is my view is the minority on my Board]

But I think the three things that MUST be remembered are...

One..there are good people on both sides of the interpretation question so we must see it is not completely clear one way or the other.

Two..This means that, since it isn't a major [it is non-salvific] issue in theology, it might not be in fellowship either. So there is room for fellowship with people of differing views.

Three..Were my church fellowship to agree AS a fellowship that one side or the other is the best interpretation for us as a Body, I would be able to remain in fellowship with no problem since I've already concluded it is a non-salvific question. But I would have to remain free to teach my thoughts on it as a possible explanation of those passages to stay true to my own conscience. There are some issues where this has been done in churches I've pastored through the years.

I do think, however, we are rapidly approaching the time when a wise congregation would do well to consider an official position that doesn't rob half the Body of the excercise of their gifts. This based on the fact that the text ISN'T that clear.[Always opt on the side of grace is my mantra] I'm almost at the place where I might not be able to remain in a fellowship where they were to hold rigidly to a restrictive interpretation.

Paul Burleson said...

To all,

In reflecting on my last comment I realized some of you might wonder what I mean by "holding rigidly to a restrictive interpretation." Some might also, legitimately wonder how what I said jives with Wade's opening paragraph of his post today about his ordination service. Good question if you were thinking it.

A "rigid restrictive interpretation would be one where a woman could not pray, teach, speak, lead, serve where men are under her leadership. I do NOT see that in scripture at all. Wade doesn't either but is honest in saying he believes the role of Pastoral/Elder ministry is/could be reserved for men. But it would be more of a local church decision contextual in nature. This means that if a church decides, since the scripture isn't clear as to an eternal principle in the matter, in some geographical areas it might be wise to go one way or the other depending on the decision of the local church, they are free to do so and should not be labeled as liberal or disbelievers the bible.

The BF@M reflects the ministry [office it says I think] of Pastor is reserved for males. While one might disagree [I do] one would have to admit that, if a salary is paid by an entity of the Convention, the BOT of that entity would have the right/responsibility to require employees of that entity to agree with that particular position.

The problem arises when ANY entity tries to go beyond the singular/simple statements of the BF@M and make applicaions that are interpretative in other areas and say it is because Southern Baptist believe this or that when the BF@M doesn't address those interpretations at all. That's what has happened at SWBTS.

Bryan Riley said...

Paul, have you read Loren Cunningham's book on the subject of women in the ministry? While it, like any other exegesis of biblical text, has its challenges, I think it is worth considering in this arena.

Paul Burleson said...


I have not read the book. but you've certainly created an interest in me to do so. Thanks.