Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
As one gets into the Word of God, a very exciting part can be when you start butting heads with the Lord on what the Bible says. Some might say that this is a heretical act, but I’d argue that taking issue with parts of Scripture that don’t make sense or seem fair to you is a great way to grow in your faith as the Lord teaches you and re-adjusts your frame of thinking.
However, before debating a topic with God you have to remember a few things. First of all, the Lord is God and therefore he’s right no matter what; so really the issue is that you might not properly understand what the Bible says or maybe you have to unlearn what the world has taught you previously. When we read the Bible, one of our main goals is to understand the mind of God, which is an exciting adventure on its own. Even the Lord acknowledges that we don’t think like him and therefore it’s no surprise we take issue with parts of the Word. He reminds us,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways my ways,”
Declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways
And my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
So just because you find something to be offensive to your tastes doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong- you might not even be in the wrong for finding what you read off-putting. However, the Lord will get the last word on any issue. Another thing to remember as you read the Word of God and start asking the Lord what he’s getting at is to remember that no part of the Bible is less or more important than another. Paul notes, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). You may like reading John 14, but remember that Jesus also told us everything from the Sermon on the Mount as well. And even further than that, the Lord dictated to Moses the entire Law. Even books like Esther and the Song of Songs where God isn’t a main character are still extremely useful in understanding our relationship to him and how life works. The third thing to remember as you read the Bible and go, “Hey God, what about this?” is to remember that you’re in good company. Habakkuk the prophet was upset that the Lord wasn’t properly administering justice on a worldwide scale (as far as he could see) and actually complained to the Lord about it in his book. Scripture records,
How long, O Lord must I call for help,
But you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
But you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
There is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
And justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
So that justice is perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4).
Notice that Habakkuk even notes the differences between what he is taught from the Law and what he’s actually seeing in life. He declares the Law as being paralyzed in the face of the world’s evils. And so the whole book is about him and the Lord coming to an understanding as to what is happening. Job directly asked the big question to God of why the Lord’s servants suffer while the wicked prosper. We read as he defends his questioning to his friends,
Is my complaint directed to man?
Why should I not be impatient?
Look at me and be astonished;
Clap your hand over your mouth.
When I think about this, I am terrified;
Trembling seizes my body.
Why do the wicked live on,
Growing old and increasing in power? (Job 21:4-7)
Job notes that he’s not asking a philosophical question to be discussed; rather he’s directly questioning what the Lord is up to. So if you find yourself looking at Scripture and getting confused or even a little offended, don’t worry, you’re not the first.
Alright, that was a long introduction. Now we’ll move onto my current issue that I’m debating with the Lord. I’ve been reading book excerpt from one of my favorite pastors that’s stirred up a part of Scripture I flat out either don’t understand or can’t seem to balance properly in my mind. Actually, said pastor is one of my favorites because of his strict adherence to the Word and his adherence bringing me into contention with his doctrine before. Last time, when I was first introduced to his sermons, he was preaching on how people who have no contact with the Gospel are still doomed to hell even though they didn’t get a proper chance (by our standards). As a new Christian at the time, this was a big question I had and I found his answer to the topic to give me a very bitter taste in my mouth. He had highlighted Romans 1:20, which states
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
The thrust of the argument was that everyone can see God’s work all around them. Therefore, if they really want to seek out the source, the Lord will make it available to them. Rather though, most people in unreached cultures are more than happy to accept traditional myths or to make up their own gods to fill in the gaps. As a Christian living in the love of the Lord I found this extremely off-putting and unsatisfactory. Therefore I prayed to God about this pastor and his edgy doctrine. The very next day while I was watching a sermon on a different topic from my most trusted pastor, this topic came up and he again defended that the unreached are lost without the Gospel (and he used different verses to defend it). It was a fast response from the Lord that I was in the wrong and needed to repent and start trying to better understand salvation. Because of God having his back, I’ve grown to trust this other pastor greatly as well. Once again though I find myself a bit off-put by what I’m reading compared to what I’m seeing.
The topic is female leadership in the church. As a note, I am a dude so I have no personal stake in this situation. What gets me is some of Paul’s notes on the roles of women in the church versus what I see in practice. Paul notes, “I don’t not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). Straight up Paul says that he didn’t allow women to be teachers in the church. He also notes,
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
As in all the congregation of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).
Seriously, Paul? I know that these days most of the protestant world doesn’t adhere strictly to Paul’s words and there are women pastors. But I can’t ignore what the Bible says. What’s worse is that honestly, if you follow Paul’s reasoning to the source (as the Holy Spirit has guided me), his doctrine makes sense. Throughout his letters, Paul uses the relationship between men and women as a model of our relationship to God. This is why Paul even notes, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Through this we can better understand the relationship between humanity and God. Christ came to the earth to represent God to humanity. After he ascended to heaven, Christians were charged with representing Christ on earth. Therefore we find that mankind is the image of Christ, who is the image of God. Women then take the place of mankind in the picture. So in Paul’s frame of speaking Christ speaks for God, men speak for Christ, and women speak for mankind. Therefore if a male is the church leader, he is (in the illustration) speaking in place of Christ; making his teaching holy. However, if a woman is teaching in church, she is speaking in the place of mankind, thus making the church a church of man not a church of Christ. Paul is very strong on this topic, going as far as to insist that men keep their hair trimmed and heads uncovered in church as a mark of their position and women keep their hair long or covered as a mark of their position. He confidently writes,
Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice- nor do the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:14-16).
This is the same Paul who writes on love never failing. But on the topic of men and women’s positions in the church and at home he really digs in his heels- almost as though he knows he’s going to catch flack for what he’s writing. Again, if you follow his thought pattern it makes sense. If a woman, whose head is man, is preaching, then the church becomes not a church of God but a church of the world- which is neither holy nor right in the eyes of the Lord.
But something seems…insufficient. You can look all around and see wonderful women of God who are more than qualified and motivated to preach the Word of God. There are female pastors whose teachings are great and help to open the Bible up in new and exciting ways. These women seem to be blessed by the Lord not only in wisdom and speech, but also in their lives as they serve the Lord. And what about the gift? Paul wrote,
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully (Romans 12:6-8).
What am I supposed to do with this in relation to Paul’s stance on women in the church? What if a woman has the gift of teaching? In the Old Testament there are prophetesses, such as Deborah, so something doesn’t seem to balance out right. It seems, from where I stand that the Lord distributes gifts without any sort of a gender bias. Why is it then that the church is expected to follow a gender-based system when the abilities are found on both sides of the chromosomes? Or what of the call? Paul writes of Christ,
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13)
So here Paul mentions that the Lord also calls people to different roles in the church. What are we to do then when a woman rises up, who is gifted in teaching and feels like she is called to be behind a pulpit? Are we to stand in her way because Paul says that the church isn’t to have women teachers? This is where my contention comes in. I’ve seen extremely faithful women who have been gifted as teachers. And I’ve seen the Lord bless women pastors and their families. And yet I’m told by Scripture that such things should not be (and actually is in the realm of sin). What is the missing piece?
I don’t have an answer for this topic- which is why I’m posting this ahead of all of my other current notes (so that those of you who find yourselves challenged by the Bible know it happens to every Christian). Last time when I had a strong area of contention with God, he answered it quickly. Instead this time he’s letting me think on it, having the Holy Spirit provide me with both sides of the argument (which is confusing in its own right). In the end I have to submit to Scripture, but I still feel like I want some more answers from the Lord on this topic (preferably before I meet Christ face to face). I welcome those of you who are wiser on such things to weigh in with your knowledge on the subject in the comments section as this is quite an interesting topic of discussion. I hope to share what the Lord teaches me (theoretically with an answer) in the future. But for now, I’ll keep going the rounds with God.