Thursday, March 23, 2017


Growing up as I did within the movement of Oneness Pentecostalism, the experience of speaking in tongues was highly valued as a constituent part of conversion-initiation. Indeed, it was often and emphatically stressed that until one had spoken in tongues, one was not fully saved. This theology of speaking in tongues as a crowning sign of salvation was almost entirely taken from the narratives in Acts 2:1-4, 10:44-46 and 19:5-6. On the basis of these passages, it was urged that the gift of the Spirit was accompanied by the gift of tongues, and the one without the other was not possible. I can clearly remember, though it has been over half a century ago, one preacher taking off his shoe during his sermon and pointing out that the “tongue” in the shoe was an essential part of the shoe—you couldn’t have the shoe without the tongue.

While Luke offers more than twenty descriptions of conversion-initiation in the Book of Acts, only three unambiguously describe the phenomenon of speaking in tongues with perhaps one other occasion where it might be implied (Ac. 8:17-19). Of course, the Pentecostal group to which I belonged largely ignored all the other occasions of conversion except the three mentioned earlier. Still, on these three occasions Luke does, indeed, describe converts receiving the Spirit and speaking in tongues. I should clearly say, at this point, that Luke seems to envision these experiences as genuine miracles of speaking in known human languages (Ac. 2:6-11). This is the normal meaning of the Greek terms Luke uses, glossa and dialektos. More importantly, however, is how Luke understands the meaning of this experience in the larger context of his work.

Luke’s larger purpose in the Book of Acts is to show how the gospel, which began within the context of Judaism, spread outwardly so that it eventually included the nations. The paradigm from Jesus’ words in Ac. 1:8, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, forecasts the progress of the book. The crossing of ethnic barriers came neither immediately nor smoothly, however. Luke shows how this happened in a series of “steps”, beginning with the choosing of the Seven, one of whom was a Greek proselyte (Ac. 6:1-6), to the conversion of some Samaritans (Ac. 8:4-5, 25), to the conversion of an African (Ac. 8:26ff.), to the conversion of Saul, who was divinely commissioned as a missionary to the gentiles (Ac. 9:15), to the conversion of a Gentile military officer (Ac. 10:1ff.), to the preaching of the gospel to Greeks in Antioch, Syria (Ac. 11:19-21), and finally, to the great missionary journeys of Paul to Asia Minor and Greece (Ac. 13:1-3). Each of these ethnic expansions was a serious theological challenge to the earliest Jewish Christians. The Book of Acts climaxes with the description of Paul “…proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness—unhindered” (my translation). The final word in the Greek text of Acts is the word “unhindered”. That this is Luke’s final word is often obscured in the English Versions, which tend to place it earlier in the sentence, but it is certainly important as the crowning word of Luke’s treatise, given his emphasis on the progress of the gospel as it crossed the various ethnic boundaries of the Greco-Roman world. If we are to understand Luke’s theological intent in those passages that describe tongues-speaking, we should do so within this larger context.

The initial occasion, the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost (Ac. 2:1-4), is essentially a reversal of what happened in Genesis 10-11, the story of the scattering of the nations from Babel, all speaking different languages. In this ancient account, humans had refused to obey God’s command to “fill the earth” (Ge. 9:1), preferring instead to stay together in order to build a great ziggurat into the heavens as the “gate of God” (Ge. 11:3-4). It was a rebellion for which God confused their languages and scattered them over the earth (Ge. 11:9). By contrast, at Pentecost, Jewish representatives from the nations of the world came together at the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem, where they were amazed to see the Spirit descend upon Jesus’ disciples, all of them speaking the languages of the Greco-Roman world and prompting the question, “What does this mean?” What, indeed? Was there sign value to this occasion of tongues-speaking? Certainly, there was! The fact that the languages spoken were from Rome, Asia Minor, North Africa, Mesopotamia, Crete and Arabia—Luke’s hyperbole indicated they were from “every nation under heaven” (2:5)—pointed toward the international scope of the gospel. The sign value of the tongues was hardly a sign of personal salvation for the apostles and disciples, however. After all, of the disciples who received the Spirit, Jesus already had indicated their names were “written in heaven” long before Pentecost (Lk. 10:20). Tongues, then, held a sign value, not to point out that these disciples were now “saved”, but to point out the larger context of Luke’s literary goal, to describe the gospel as it would cross ethnic barriers and be carried to all the world.

 Much progress toward internationalism was made over the next several months. In Jerusalem, the apostles appointed the Seven to rectify the problem between the Aramaic-speaking Jews and the Greek-speaking Jews, and the fact that all the appointees had Greek names suggests they may have been drawn from the Hellenistic side of the Christian community (6:3-6). At least one of them was a non-Jew, the proselyte called Nicolas of Antioch, probably a Greek. Then, after Stephen’s martyrdom, Philip’s preaching of Christ in Samaria became the next bold initiative (8:4-5). Here, the Holy Spirit was withheld from those believing Philip’s message, and indeed, the Samaritans would not receive the Spirit until the coming of apostolic representatives from the Jerusalem Church. Hearing of what happened, the Jerusalem church had felt it necessary to send Peter and John to investigate this new venture (8:14), and it was only after Peter and John were there that the Samaritans were blessed with the gift of the Spirit (8:15-17). There is no mention of tongues-speaking in this narrative, though it might be inferred from Simon Magi’s plea to buy this wonderful new power (8:18-19). Still, even if there was an experience of tongues-speaking, the sign value would have been primarily for the sake of the apostolic representatives from the Jerusalem church, a clear indication from heaven that these Samaritans were now to be included in God’s people. So convinced were Peter and John that this new outlet for the gospel was acceptable, they also continued to preach in other Samaritan towns before returning to Jerusalem (8:25).

The second occasion where tongues-speaking is described by Luke is at the house of the Roman centurion at Caesarea, the Roman provincial capital on the seacoast. This incident featured Peter, the big fisherman, who was staying at the home of a tanner at Joppa. Already, he had come some distance in his appreciation that God was rearranging his cultural priorities. The fact that Peter was staying at the home of a tanner—a despised trade which rendered him and everyone in his home unclean because of the constant contact with blood—meant that Peter was already traveling in new social territory. Here, in a vision of non-kosher animals, God made it vividly clear that Peter was not to call anyone unclean whom God had made clean (10:9-16), and Peter was directed to accompany some men to Caesarea (10:17-23). At God’s instruction, Peter went with them, though fortuitously he also took with him six Jewish brothers (10:23; 11:12), Christian Jews who would later serve to corroborate Peter’s experience. Peter’s opening words to Cornelius immediately indicated the discomfort he felt at entering a Gentile home (10:27-29). Still, he frankly told them that that he now understood more completely that God did not show favoritism (10:34). In the end, Peter told them the story of Jesus, and at the climax, the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles, an outcome which none of them had expected (10:44). Indeed, the Jews accompanying Peter were absolutely astounded that God had given the gift of the Spirit to these uncircumcised non-Jews, but they could hardly deny it, for they heard them speaking in tongues (10:45-46)! Later, Peter would face an inquisition back in Jerusalem for this foray into Gentile territory (11:1-3). However, after he had explained what had happened—a story corroborated by the six Jews who accompanied him—they had no further objections (11:18). The salient point is this: the phenomenon of tongues-speaking in this incident was the clinching point to convince the Jerusalem church that Gentiles now could be included in the people of God. Peter phrased it like this, “…the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us in the beginning” (11:15), and later, “God gave them the same gift he gave us” (11:17). Peter’s language that the Spirit came on these Gentiles like it had come on the apostles “in the beginning”, almost certainly was a reference to the phenomenon of tongues-speaking at Pentecost, and it immediately suggests that tongues-speaking was extraordinary—something not usually to be expected in conversion-initiation. Was there a sign value in this tongues-speaking? Certainly! However, it’s sign value was for Peter and the six Jews who accompanied him, and later, the Jerusalem church. It was convincing evidence that God had led Peter into this crossing of the final ethnic boundary.

Shortly, more Gentiles would hear the gospel even farther afield, this time in Antioch, Syria (11:19-21). Here, conversion-initiation follows the more common pattern in the Book of Acts in that they “believed and turned to the Lord” (11:21b). There was no need for tongues-speaking in this case, since the Gentile barrier already had been breached and approved. To be sure, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to investigate, just as Peter and John had been sent to Samaria, but all was well in Antioch (11:22-23). Indeed, Antioch became the sending church for Paul’s outreach to Gentiles in Asia Minor and Greece, and on all these occasions, conversion-initiation is described simply in terms of faith, not in terms of tongues-speaking.

The only remaining incident of tongues-speaking in Acts came when Paul encountered some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. Here, also, those who were converted spoke in tongues (19:6). The sign value of tongues-speaking is less clear in this narrative. Were these twelve disciples Jews? Luke does not say, though presumably they were. Clearly, by their own admission, they were not aware that John the Baptist’s prediction of the messianic gift of the Spirit had been fulfilled (19:2). We know, for instance, of John the Baptist sects as late as the 3rd century who claimed that John, not Jesus, was the messiah (cf. Recognitions of Clement I.liv). Perhaps Luke saw this as yet another boundary crossed, not so much an ethnic one as a theological one. In any case, there is no reason to suppose that the tongues-speaking here held a sign value substantially different than the other two occasions when it had happened.

Hence, the inherited theology of my childhood, the belief that tongues-speaking was salvific and that the gift of the Spirit was always accompanied by this phenomenon, was promoted by doubtlessly sincere people who were doubtlessly wrong. Their reading of the Book of Acts, sincere though it may have been, was tendentious and flew in the face of the larger context of the Luke’s work. The repeating pattern for conversion-initiation in the Book of Acts is simply faith in the gospel of Christ. This was true at Pentecost, where converts “accepted the message” (2:41), in Jerusalem where they “believed” (4:4; 5:14) and were “obedient to the faith” (6:7), in Samaria where they “believed” and “accepted the Word of God” (8:12, 14), on the Gaza road where the Ethiopian “believed” (8:37, Western Text), at Lydda and Sharon where they “turned to the Lord” (9:35), in Joppa where they “believed in the Lord” (9:42), at Caesarea where they “believed” and “received the Word of God” (10:43, 11:1), in Antioch where they “believed” and “turned to the Lord” (11:21), in Paphos where Sergius Paulus “believed” (13:12), in Pisidian Antioch where they “believed”, “continued in the grace of God” and “honored the word of the Lord” (13:39, 43, 48), at Iconium where they “believed” (14:1), at Derbe where they “put their trust in the Lord” (14:21-23), in Asia Minor where God “opened the door of faith” so that the people were “converted”, “believed the message of the gospel”, “were purified by faith” and “turned to God”  (14:27; 15:3, 7, 9, 11, 19),  at Thyatira where Lydia “opened her heart” along with her household (16:14-15), at Philippi where a Roman jailor “believed” along with his whole household (16:30-34), in Thessalonica where both Jews and Gentiles “were persuaded” (17:4), at Berea where they “believed” (17:12), in Athens where a few “believed” (17:34), at Corinth where “many…believed” (18:8), in Achaia where Apollos was a great help to “those who by grace had believed” (18:27), in Ephesus where they “heard the word of the Lord” and “believed” (19:10, 18), to the thousands of Jews in Jerusalem who “believed” (21:20), to the Gentiles whose “eyes were opened” (26:18), to those in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond who “turned to God” (26:20), and finally, to some of the Jewish leaders in Rome who were “convinced” (28:23-24). The three occasions of tongues-speaking in Acts notwithstanding, the normal experience of salvation clearly is expressed in faith—and to borrow Luther’s extension—faith alone.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Did Paul forbid women to teach, that they are morally inferior to men, and that their obligation is to be silent?

1 Timothy 2:11-15 is by far the most controversial in the New Testament with respect to the role of women in the church. In the first place, there are significant translation difficulties.

  • How should one translate the term gyne (either “woman” or “wife”).
  • How should one translate the expression hesychia manthaneto? Does it mean she is to “learn in silence” (i.e., don’t speak out publicly, so KJV) or she is to “learn quietly” (i.e., she is not to disrupt worship, so NASB)?
  • To whom or what is she to be in “full submission” (pase hypotage)? The object of this submission is unstated. Does Paul mean she is to be in submission to the church, in submission to men generally, or in submission to her husband?
  • How should one render the phrase ouk epitrepo? If one translates it absolutely, “I do not permit”, it indicates habitual practice (so NIV). If one translates it periphrastically, “I am not permitting”, it indicates a temporary restriction for the present time, e.g., “I am not [i.e., at this time] giving permission for a woman to teach…” (so JB).
  • What is the meaning of the infinitive authentein, a rare word that appears only here in the New Testament? It certainly is not the usual Greek word that Paul uses to describe authority. Does it mean “to have authority over”, implying a prohibition of female leadership altogether (so NASB)? Does it mean “to dominate”, implying an abuse of leadership power by women who are already leaders (so Berkeley Version)?
    In addition to translation issues, there are significant interpretive issues, particularly in the latter part of the passage.
  • Why does Paul say Adam was created first? Does he intend this as a statement about rank (i.e., Adam was superior to Eve) or a statement correcting a popular Ephesian myth (i.e., a myth advocating that the woman was the first created being)?
  • Is Paul’s statement that the woman was deceived intended as a derogation toward all women (i.e., women are not to be trusted) or the refutation of an Ephesian myth (i.e., a myth advocating that the woman was the source of all wisdom)?
  • How is the woman “saved” through child bearing? The Greek grammar is complex, and virtually all English versions “play with” the grammar, for literally the passage reads, “She shall be saved….if they remain in faith…” Who is the “she” and who are the “they”?
    The most restrictive approach to this passage (sometimes labeled “hard patriarchalism”) sees it as a categorical prohibition. Here, women are to be silent in a congregational setting. They can listen, but they cannot say anything. They must be in total submission to men. Under no circumstance may they teach men. They can have no leadership role in the church, at least if such a role would require them to be directive to men, for they were divinely created to be in submission to men. To do otherwise would usurp the woman’s God-ordained role to be under male authority. The order of creation is hierarchical. Adam was created first; therefore, males are superior. Eve, not Adam, was deceived in Eden. Women are by disposition inclined to be fooled, and therefore, they are more apt to be tricked into transgression.
    A less restrictive approach (sometimes labeled “soft patriarchalism” or “complementarianism”) reads the passage as allowing women to learn quietly so long as they do not disrupt the worship service. They should be in submission to their husbands, and they cannot be a teacher of men, though they may teach other women and also young children. They cannot serve as overseers or elders, since such a role would be a usurpation of the God-ordained pattern that men are to be the primary leaders in the church, but they can serve in lesser roles (e.g., administrative, supportive, secretarial, etc.). The creation sets the hierarchical order. Men were created first; therefore, men should be the primary leaders. Eve was the first to fall into disobedience; therefore, women should not be the primary leaders. However, women may serve in subordinate roles in the church so long as they serve under the jurisdiction of a male leader. They may speak publicly, so long as they do so in submission to their husbands or fathers or male congregational leaders.
    An “egalitarian” approach reads the passage in quite a different way--as a temporary restriction upon women in the Ephesian church due to the rise of a matriarchal heresy with roots in Ephesian paganism and the beginnings of Gnosticism.  This position emphasizes the cultural context of Ephesus (1 Ti. 1:3), a Roman city with an extensive history in mother goddess worship and whose patron deity, Artemis, was famous throughout the Roman world. When Gnostic ideas began to infiltrate Ephesus via Jewish mysticism, the notion of feminine mediators was advanced so that men could only learn the esoteric knowledge of the Gnostics from women, several of whom are known by name. To be sure, what we known of Asian Gnosticism comes from documents somewhat later than the writing of the pastoral letters (2nd century AD), but at the same, many scholars have suggested that incipient Gnosticism (i.e., an early developing form of Gnostic thought) probably underlies not only the Pastoral Letters, but also Paul’s Colossian letter and perhaps the letters of John. The female was perceived to be the primal source of spiritual knowledge, an idea present in Ephesian myths but transferred over into formative Gnostic teachings. Such mysticism held that Eve pre-existed before Adam, and in fact, was responsible for infusing him with life. Sophia Zoe (= Wisdom-Life), an alias for Eve, created Adam before the fleshly Eve was removed from his side. She breathed life into him, and she is the one who holds the power of enlightenment. Adam was ignorant of the true state of affairs, tricked into believing that he was created first. His enlightenment—the Gnostic secret knowledge that his source of life was the feminine-divine—could only be revealed by the woman, and the Gnostics’ claim was that they held the key to this enlightenment.
    If the foregoing culture of Ephesus lies behind Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy, which I think it probably does, then the reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 takes on quite a different cast. Certainly, there could hardly be a more pointed disagreement between St. Paul and the Gnostic mythologies:
    GNOSTICISM: The Hypostasis of the Archons, 2.89
    The spirit-filled woman came to him and spoke with him, saying, “Arise, Adam.” And when he saw her, he said, “You are the one who has given me life.”
    ST. PAUL
    1 Timothy 2:13
    For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
    GNOSTICISM: On the Origin of the World, 2.5.116
    But let us not tell Adam because he is not from among us, but let us bring a sleep upon him, and let us teach him in his sleep as if she [Eve] came into being from his rib…
    ST. PAUL
    1 Timothy 2:14
    And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
    That some sort of feminine aggression was prominent among Ephesus’ false teachers seems apparent, for Paul rebukes the ostentatious dress of such women who flaunted themselves in public worship (1 Ti. 2:9-10). He calls to silence any women leaders who were given to malicious talk (1 Ti. 3:11; 5:13) and rebukes those spreading “godless myths and old wives’ tales” (1 Ti. 4:7). Near the end of the letter, he warns against “godless chatter” and “opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Ti. 6:20-21). His language about “what is falsely called knowledge” is an admirable description of what we know of Gnostic thought a few decades later. How far developed Gnostic ideas were at this early stage is difficult to ascertain, but the similarities are striking. In any case, Paul was blunt: such female-perpetrated heresies already had induced some to turn away from the true gospel of Jesus Christ to follow Satan (1 Ti. 5:17).

If this is the correct context, then Paul’s restrictions in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are to be read in their local setting. He is not issuing universal demands that women never speak in church, never occupy positions of leadership, or never are allowed to teach. Rather, he is emphatically shutting down a virulent heresy in Ephesus, demonstrating by his citations from the Book of Genesis how distorted was this false teaching. The feminists were wrong: Adam, not Eve, was created first. Eve, not Adam, was deceived by the snake.