Posts Tagged ‘Exegesis’

Queen Vashti in Ephesus

If you read Esther chapter 1 and your takeaway is that Queen Vashti is the hero because she stood up to the patriarchy, you’re reading it wrong. I don’t say that to defend the patriarchy but to defend the historical setting of the text.

In a nutshell, Ahasuerus was the king of the known world and he threw a party. When you’re king of the known world, your parties tend to be epic and not in the sense in which we use the word “epic” to describe a burrito. At the end of a feast, when the king had a pleasant wine buzz, he called for Queen Vashti to come and present herself before the princes and the people (verse 11). Vashti was a beautiful woman and judging from the way Ahasuerus threw a dinner party, I’m sure she would be decked out in the best clothing and jewels the kingdom had to offer. Ahasuerus wanted to parade her out as he did with the decorations of the palace (verse 6-7). Vashti refused to come.

Why? The Bible doesn’t say because it doesn’t matter. The chapter isn’t about a brave proto-feminist standing up against the patriarchy. Vashti didn’t burn her bra in protest, she simply refused to come (verse 12). The author’s point isn’t Vashti. It is Ahasuerus. He consumes the first chapter of the book and that chapter establishes the magnitude of Ahasuerus’ power and his ruthlessness. If anyone, including his wife, defies his orders they are dealt with in a swift, kingdom-wide manner (verse 20). The intent is for us to fear Ahasuerus, not the patriarchy. Vashti isn’t a hero, she is a victim just as the Jews will be targeted to be, just as Mordecai will be targeted to be, and just as Haman will be after his attempt to manipulate Ahasuerus’ power becomes known.

Along similar lines, there is an interesting account of the history of first century Ephesus. According to the article, the people who eventually go on to establish the city were a pretty vicious matriarchy lead by a queen who “promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude.” These women may have been the fabled Amazons from whence comes Wonder Woman.

If this accurately represents the historical background on the city of Ephesus (granting, for the moment, that it is correct), we may get a richer, more nuanced understanding of 1 Timothy. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he was writing to a young minister working to establish the church in Ephesus. Establishing leadership would require that he take care to not allow any abusive control present in the culture to be included within the new community of the church.

Where we can run into the same danger of misreading Timothy the way we might misread Esther when we want to layer on top of the text our current culture issues. When we think we’ve found the approach that shows how the text speaks to our current issue, we can be blind to other parts that may make it not fit. So with Esther the silence as to why Vashti refused to do as the king commanded could be filled in with our pet issue.

Likewise with Timothy. The article linked to above applies the history briefly recounted and concludes:

Given this understanding of “authentein” and the religious history of Ephesus, it is unlikely that Paul was warning against women (in general) “exercising authority” over men in the church. It is more likely that along with his warnings against false teaching, mythology, and forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods, he was also warning against an abusive form of power.

The meaning of the Greek word authentein is disputable since it only appears in 1 Timothy 2:12, but the article trys to explain its apparent prohibition on women in authority in church by pointing to a history of abusive matriarchy in Ephesus. In the end, the author believes, this does not establish patriarchy in the place of matriarchy but rather 1 Timothy 2 is supposed to ensure that there is no abusive leadership in place in the church.

Except it doesn’t. You can’t take half of 1 Timothy 2 in isolation, even with this historical data, and claim to have correctly interpreted the meaning of one word. Let’s assume for a moment that 1 Timothy 2 doesn’t establish patriarchy. Okay. Keep reading. When you get to chapter 3 you run into Paul’s requirements for the role of elder/bishop/presbyter and deacon. An elder must be “the husband of one wife.” That’s not something a woman can do. Also, all of the qualifications for elder are given in masculine pronouns; “he must”, “he must not”, etc. This sounds like Paul is indeed establishing a patriarchy.

What about deacons? A similar thing happens there but then we get to 1 Timothy 3:11. The ESV says “Their wives likewise must be dignified…” but that’s not a translation, it is an interpretation. The word behind “wives” is gune which can be translated as “wife” or “woman.” Paul is allowing for women to be deacons but not elders. Let that sink in for a moment. Paul give the qualifications for female deacons but not for female elders. And just to make the point that this is not a unique situation in Ephesus, he tells the same thing to Titus on Crete in Titus 1:5-9. Again, all masculine pronouns and no qualifications for female elders.

Looking beyond the verse in question and asking more of the text can give us better answers. The rest of the book of Esther is not about ending patriarchy but about God delivering his people though brave and faithful Esther and Mordecai. The rest of the context of Paul’s instruction to Timothy about establishing leadership is about faithful men as elders and men and women as deacons.

But let’s go back a little. The history of Ephesus used in the article is sketchy. According to the Wikipedia article on Ephesus:

The mythical founder of the city was a prince of Athens named Androklos, who had to leave his country after the death of his father, King Kadros. According to the legend, he founded Ephesus on the place where the oracle of Delphi became reality (“A fish and a boar will show you the way”)…

Later, Greek historians such as Pausanias, Strabo and Herodotos and the poet Kallinos reassigned the city’s mythological foundation to Ephos, queen of the Amazons.

Catch that? “Later” they “reassigned” the foundation to the queen of the Amazons. The foundation of Ephesus is wrapped in mythology. This seems a very shaky foundation to build Biblical exegesis on.

When interpreting scripture, we must resist the desire to push our modern ideas and sensibilities into gaps, point, and yell “Ah ha!” Let’s keep Vashti out of Ephesians.

Egalitarian Vs Complementarian

Sure, the Bible is a sharp blade that cuts bone in two but what happens when certain passages turn into bombs? Wouldn’t it be great to find a way to defuse those verse-bombs that we drop on each other? They get lobbed all the time, especially on the internet. Well, here’s an attempt to disarm one.

spyA friend recently linked to an article from The Junia Project 1Junia is mentioned in Romans 16:7 along with Andronicus as being “outstanding amongst the apostles” in the NIV. This is intended to prove that there were female apostles but ultimately it fails. The verse is translated “well known to the apostles” in the ESV which would not put Junia or Andronicus among the Apostles. Also, the way “apostle” is used in the New Testament is complex. There are the Twelve Apostles but then others are apostles. It may be that the way “apostle” is used in Romans 16 is more analogous to what we mean by “missionary.” written by Dr. Gail Wallace, an adjunct professor of Adult and Professional Studies at Azuza Pacific University. She has a PhD in education and seems like a very nice person overall. The blog post Gail wrote is titled “Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb.” Gail is correct when she says in it that 1 Timothy 2 is often treated as a conversation stopper when discussing women’s roles in the church and it shouldn’t be. Complementarian or egalitarian, if we are evangelicals we should be able to come to a text and discuss it and seek to understand and obey it. We should be able to do that without rancor and divisiveness so I am grateful for her efforts.

In good faith Gail opens that conversation by offering to “defuse” this explosive verse for us. She used what I consider to be a very clever metaphor for making her point: she shows us the “three wires” we need to cut in order to defuse the bomb; the “Translation Wire”, the “Context Wire”, and the “Interpretation Wire.” In all, I thought it was a very helpful way to present her material. And even in this short blog post she provided a kind of bibliography at the end. Nicely done!

In the end though, I don’t think she would last very long in a bomb squad. The wires she chose to cut didn’t defuse the bomb but merely confused the issue with some poor arguments against the complimentarian understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12. The problem that Gail seems to have missed is that we can get so entrenched in our positions on issues that we cannot actually hear the other side of the discussion. In this post I take a look at each wire she sought to cut and show how attempting to cut them fails. In the end, I point to three wires we need to cut, not to defuse arguments against our commitments but in order to engage in real dialog on them.

Read On…

1 Junia is mentioned in Romans 16:7 along with Andronicus as being “outstanding amongst the apostles” in the NIV. This is intended to prove that there were female apostles but ultimately it fails. The verse is translated “well known to the apostles” in the ESV which would not put Junia or Andronicus among the Apostles. Also, the way “apostle” is used in the New Testament is complex. There are the Twelve Apostles but then others are apostles. It may be that the way “apostle” is used in Romans 16 is more analogous to what we mean by “missionary.”

Hebrews the Evangelical Epistle

Hebrews Bulletin

I’ve been preaching through Hebrews and though we’re only up to the third chapter, I have been repeatedly impressed with how the author treats the scriptures he quotes. Right off the bat the author says “God spoke…by the prophets.” Now, you could read that and think that, sure, he believed that God spoke by certain people but that, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily say anything about the Bible. But the way that he introduces scripture quotes from there on out shows that he didn’t have only the prophets’ verbal pronouncements in mind but their written communication even more so. For example, in the rest of chapter 1 he quotes various passages, mostly from the Psalms, to support his contention that Jesus is greater than the angels. He doesn’t quote a Psalm and say “As David said” but rather “God said.”

In chapter 2 he does something even more interesting. In verse 11 he attributes the words of Psalm 22 to Jesus when he says, “This is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying…” Now really this makes a lot of sense because the way Psalm 22 begins is with Jesus’ dying words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The church has seen Psalm 22 as messianic for a very long time so she has long heard that Psalm as Jesus’ words.

Then in chapter 3 the author involves the third member of the Trinity in authoring the scriptures by explicitly bringing in the Holy Spirit. In verse 7 he quotes Psalm 95 and introduces it by saying “as the Holy Spirit says…” When he cites the beginning of that quote again in chapter 4 verse 7 he introduces it with “saying through David…” That’s pretty interesting but how is it Trinitarian? Because of what the author says right after that, “If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day.” So who authored Psalm 95? God spoke it, the Holy Spirit said it through David. Ah, so God spoke by the prophets just like our author said!

So where do evangelicals get such a high view of scripture? From the Reformers? Sure. From the Church Fathers? You bet. But ultimately we get it from the scriptures themselves. We need to learn how to read the Bible from the Apostles since they learned how to read it from Jesus. Though we don’t know who the author of Hebrews was, we do know that he learned from those who listened to Jesus (Heb. 2:3) and so he is a faithful example of how to understand the Bible. The author of Hebrews was, essentially, evangelical.

His Enemies Didn’t Do So Well

imagesWhat is the point of the travel details and the storm and shipwreck of Acts 27? In seminary, we had to memorize all three of Paul’s missionary journeys. For the test we were given a blank map and told which journey we had to plot including putting the cities on the map in the right place. So again I ask, what is the point of the travel details in Acts 27? I mean, other than to torment poor seminary students?

I’m not sure I can firmly answer that but I suspect this has something to do with it: The Jews in Rome said to Paul, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:21-22) So the people who wanted Paul killed in Acts 23-26 apparently hadn’t shown up in Rome yet. Why? I would guess that if Paul had such harsh travels from Caesarea, his enemies probably had worse! God sent an angel to speak to Paul and promised to deliver everyone on the ship (Acts 27:23). After Paul survived being shipwrecked, he got bitten by a poisonous snake (Acts 28:1-6). The only way Paul survived all of this was because God wanted him in Rome (Acts 23:11). If any of his accusers came after him I doubt they would have made it.

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” – 1 Peter 4:18