Review – The Blue Parakeet

A conversation that started in the comments of this post lead me to reading the The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight.

The book is not directly about the Complementarian/Egalitarian discussion. Predominantly it is about how to read the Bible, but the ‘case study’ he presents as an example of his theory is how to understand the role of women in ministry based on Biblical text – with special reference to 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

McKnight’s emphasis in the book is that we must read the Bible as Story i.e. it has a plot, characters and many authors who contribute to one overarching story. His claim is that reading the Bible in the context of the Story and understanding each passage as a part of a whole is the key to a correct interpretation of any passage. Basically, he is explaining Biblical Theology. Which I like. I think he is right when he says that you cannot take a few verses and try to understand them as stand-alone sentences. Context is key.

However in his attempt to do this with the issue of women in ministry, he is so determined to locate the verses in the context of the Bible, that he forgets to locate them in the context of the chapter (and book) that they are in. But there are bigger issues than that standing in the way of me agreeing with his book.

The first is what I believe to be a complete illusion in his understanding of Genesis 1 -2. McKnight constantly points to the oneness, unity, equality and mutuality that existed between Adam and Eve in Eden before the fall, at one point referring to man and woman being made for each other. This is simply not what is found in the text of Genesis 2.

15 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden,  17 but you must not eat  from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”  18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him.”  19 So the LORD God formed out of the ground each wild animal and each bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it.  And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found who was like him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. 22 Then the LORD God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said:
This one, at last, is bone of my bone,
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called woman,
for she was taken from man.

Yes there is equality, yes there is unity and yes there is oneness – but there is not mutuality. The woman was created as Adam’s helper. In bringing this up I know I open a can of worms that is the discussion regarding the meaning of the word ‘helper’. Right now I am going to ignore that and instead ask how is it possible that they man was made for the woman, when he was created first? He was made, put in the garden with a job to do, and given instructions to follow all before woman was made. SHE was made FOR him and FROM him. There is no mutuality in this – he was not made for her and he was not made from her.

Of course McKnight’s presupposition that mutuality existed before the fall and therefore is the trajectory of male/female relationships now, affects the rest of his understanding of the passages relating to women’s roles.

What also affects his defense of what he calls his ‘Mutuality’ position (as opposed to calling it Egalitarian) is some assumptions he makes about the Complementarian position that I don’t believe are right.

The mistake I believe he makes is this –

‘In writing here about “women in church ministries”, I want to emphasize that I am not talking only about senior pastors and elders and preaching and teaching from pulpits on Sunday mornings, but about anything God calls a woman to do.’

The reason I believe this is a mistake is because the text does not give blanket statements to women about all ministries. Different instructions are given to different ministries. It gives us 2 specific ministries where a woman is directed to silence (weighing of prophecy in 1 Cor 14 & teaching with authority in public worship in 1 Tim 2). It allows (or more correctly expects) women to pray and prophecy in 1 Cor 11 and commands them to teach other women in Titus 2. There is no hard and fast rule to cover all ministries so we mustn’t deal with them all in the same way.

This is seen again as McKnight tells of his mind-changing experience of a conversation with a female professor in which he was driven to

‘the conclusion that anyone who thinks it is wrong for a woman to teach in a church can be consistent with that point of view only if they refuse to read and learn from women scholars. This means not reading their books lest they become teachers.’

Again I would say that if we follow the Biblical text we see that command to silence is not a blanket command, and in fact there are times when a woman is commanded to teach. So if we understand the commands to silence in their context we will see that his conclusion is wrong.

Again we see this issue arise in his statement of Complementarians, that

such persons believe the silencing passages are permanent and there is no place in the local church today for women prophets, apostles, leaders or for women to perform any kind of teaching ministry.’

I believe that the silencing passages are still applicable today AND I believe that there is a massive teaching role for women in the local church. When he writes ‘there is no ground for total silencing of women in the church’ I absolutely could not agree more.

And that brings me to some of the issues I have with his exegesis of the key texts in his case study.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

McKnight clearly is working hard to try and consolidate the first glance appearance of a contradiction in Paul’s expectation that women will pray and prophesy in chapter 11, and his command to silence in chapter 14. His theory is that because the silence seems to be related to the asking of questions, Paul is commanding uneducated to women to silence. He says

When these women heard what was being said, they had questions. Paul thinks those sorts of questions should be asked elsewhere, probably because it interrupted the service. This conclusion has significant implications. Paul’s silencing of women at Corinth is then only a temporary silencing. Once the women with questions had been educated, they would be permitted the to ask questions in the gatherings of Christians.

I think this conclusion raises more questions than it answers – Why doesn’t Paul say that after women are educated they can then ask questions? What is it about the first lot of questions they have (pre-education) and the second set (post-education) that means one is permitted and the other isn’t? How do we know if our questions fit into the first or the second category? But my main issue with this is that is assumes a lot of information that isn’t in the text and ignores something that is in the text that I think is important to an understanding of 1 Corinthians.

The command to silence is given 3 times in verses 26 – 40, to 3 different groups of people.

26 How is it then, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, [another] language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification. 27 If any person speaks in [another] language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. 30 But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. 32 And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, 33 since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting. 36 Did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?

37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored. 39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in [other] languages. 40 But everything must be done decently and in order.

Both those who speak in tongues and those who prophesy are also given a command to silence. This is not a reflect on the value of what they have to say, in fact verse 26 acknowledges that each on has something of value to add. The reason for silence in these 3 cases is that God is a God of order (verse 33 & 40). To have some women who can ask questions (the educated ones) and some who can’t (the uneducated ones) contradicts the nature of a God of order and peace.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

McKnight claims of these verses that

The big point Paul is making is not to “keep the women silent” but to “teach the women”. His principle was “learning before teaching”.

I think here the text actually contradicts this conclusion.

11 A woman should learn in silence with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

Verse 11 instructs a woman to learn (something which would have been radically counter-cultural to Paul’s original readers). After Paul tells women to learn he tells them NOT to teach. He does not say learn and then teach, he says learn and do not teach.

These are some of the main issues I find in the book but really I have been convinced all the more that the real issue in this debate has little to do with the exegesis of the text (although clearly that is a problem). The issue is an acceptance that difference (or a lack of mutuality) does not mean inequality. You do not have to be or do the same to be equal. Once this is understood and accepted we no longer need to twist the exegesis to suit our purpose.

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5 thoughts on “Review – The Blue Parakeet

  1. I am egal and I have my understandings of Gen 1-5 (the 3 origins stories), 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2, which I can share if you wish.

    There are symmetries and asymmetries about gender in these texts (as you point out), none of which I deny.

  2. “Yes there is equality, yes there is unity and yes there is oneness – but there is not mutuality. The woman was created as Adam’s helper.”

    This concept is a huge misinterpretation. The word used in Hebrew is ezer. This word is primarily used of God when He comes to help humans out of difficulties, and of armies helping those in trouble. There are only 21 uses of this word in the OT including the times it is used in Genesis.

    In Exodus 18:4, God is the ‘ezer of Eliezer and His “help” is described as “deliverance” from “the sword of Pharoah. An ‘ezer is a deliverer from harm.

    In Deuteronomy 33:7, God is the ‘ezer of Judah, helping him “contend…against his adversaries”. An ‘ezer is a co-contender for a goal or prize and against enemies.

    In Deuteronomy 33:26, God is the ‘ezer “who rides the heavens to your help”. An ‘ezer is a rescuer.
    In Deuteronomy 33:29, God is the ‘ezer, “the shield of your help”. An ‘ezer is a protector!

    The equality and mutuality between man and woman is found in the next word, kenegdo, often translated ‘meet’. It is a word expressing equality. It’s meaning is something akin to facing, beside.

    In addition we also have Adam’s phrase ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’. The creation of the woman from the man signifies her equality because she was a female human, different from the man but equal because she was the flesh and bones of the man.

    Mutuality is a word originating around 1580 and means: ‘condition or quality of being mutual; reciprocity; mutual dependence.’ Man and woman are mutually dependent upon one another and not only in the area of sexuality, but life in general.

  3. ” It gives us 2 specific ministries where a woman is directed to silence (weighing of prophecy in 1 Cor 14 & teaching with authority in public worship in 1 Tim 2). It allows (or more correctly expects) women to pray and prophecy in 1 Cor 11 and commands them to teach other women in Titus 2. There is no hard and fast rule to cover all ministries so we mustn’t deal with them all in the same way.”

    1 Cor. 14:34-35 are quotes from Corinthian Judaizers who are referencing an oral mishna law, and seeking to impose it on new Christians. There is no law in the Scriptures saying it is shameful for women to speak in the church. Furthermore, we have Paul encouraging women to choose their attire carefully while speaking (prophesying and praying publicly in the assemblies). So to think he approves in one place and disapproves in another is not reading in context.

    1 Tim. 2 is a correction given toward specific women or a woman teaching false doctrine. Read chapter one to get the context. And the word authento is only used in that place in the NT. It is a special word highlighting an excessive use of domineering control, not the positive authority of one gifted in ministry by the HS.

    Titus 2 is a general instruction to elder women to give of their insights to younger women. It is not to all women nor is it telling all older women to be teachers, nor is it telling older women to ONLY teach women.

  4. ”McKnight’s emphasis in the book is that we must read the Bible as Story i.e. it has a plot, characters and many authors who contribute to one overarching story. His claim is that reading the Bible in the context of the Story and understanding each passage as a part of a whole is the key to a correct interpretation of any passage. Basically, he is explaining Biblical Theology. Which I like. I think he is right when he says that you cannot take a few verses and try to understand them as stand-alone sentences. Context is key.”

    This was good. McKnight has some good thoughts along that line.

    And I’m glad that ktrae sees the sense of it.

    However, I suspect that the habit of helicoptering verses out of context is so ingrained in the average Christian that they do not realize it when they do it.

  5. Pingback: Do you love what you believe? « kt-rae

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