Church: Don’t set up your “singles”

Here’s the problem with teh interwebz. For every great article/blog post/comment you read, there are a million not-great ones that you have to sift through to get there.

Sometimes you don’t even have to go looking for them. More often than not it appears in your Facebook feed. That’s what happened a few days ago. This article was shared by a fb friend, as despite knowing their good intentions in sharing it, this article is so wrong it’s not even funny.

Before I tell you why, let me be up front and say as soon as I saw the title of this article (Church: set up your singles) I knew I was going to hate it for 2 reasons – 1) a ‘single’ is an individually wrapped piece of cheese. I am a person. The whole Christian world should STOP. CALLING. ME. A. SINGLE. 2) The article wasn’t called “Church: encourage all people to follow Jesus, regardless of their marital status”.

There’s too many things wrong with the theology of this article to possibly mention all of them, but let me tell the 3 most discouraging and dangerous errors.

1. Is singleness good?

A friend asked me recently, “If God said it is not good for man to be alone, but all he does is good, is my singleness actually good?” Sometimes the best answer to difficult questions is to just say, “I don’t know but he is good,” and so I did.

If someone asks you if their singleness is good the correct answer is yes! I know this because God has told us it is good.

1 Corinthians 7:7 says

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The 2 gifts Paul is talking about are marriage and singleness. (see the comments on this post for more detail on the Greek of this verse). Singleness is a gift. The Greek word used is charisma (literally ‘grace gift’) and is the same word used in chapter 12 about spiritual gifts. Singleness is a good gift from a good God. Of course, sometimes it feels like the kind of gift you get and give a fake smile in response, while inwardly thinking ‘what do I want this for? Can I exchange it for what she has, please?”

That’s exactly the reason I need to be reminded it’s good. When I’m finding it hard, and sad, and bitter I need my Christian family to remind me that God is good and he wants good things for me, and that even when I hate it, yes, my singleness is good.

(For those who are single, this what I want you to know about your gift.)

2. Is marriage a glimpse of the eternal marriage?

Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by helping them get married.

Yes, it is. But in the same way singleness is itself a glimpse into eternity.

Andrew Cameron says it best

Jesus’ new teaching arises from the new future. It turns out that human marriages are not reinstated in the new future, because they point to the ultimate ‘marriage’ – a final union between Christ and his people (Eph 5:29-32; Rev 19:6-8; 21:2, 9-11; cf 22:17). But we need a little more theological detective work to determine how chaste singleness points to the new future.

In the new future, John looks and sees ‘a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the lamb’ (Rev 7:9). The significance of normal social identity markers (nation, tribe, people and language) has melted away. The markers remain visible – but people now gather on a new basis other than ties of culture genes or kinship. These structure social life now, but not then. As theologian Oliver O’Donovan puts it ‘Humanity in the presence of God will know a community in which the fidelity of love which marriage makes possibly will be extended beyond the limits of marriage.’

Single people offer a glimpse of this kind of society. They’re harbingers of an aspect of heavenly community, because they’re not constrained by family boundaries of genetics and kinship. They know how care and intimacy can go beyond family boundaries. They nudge members of families out of the introverted obsession with family life that becomes its dark side. They remind families that God calls everyone into the ‘great multitude’, and they call couples and families to attend to the wider community, and t0 point to heaven. (Joined-up Life, 234-235)

If I was to rewrite this sentence in the article it would say ‘Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by sharing your life with them. Likewise, you too can taste a glimpse of eternal community by sharing in their life.’

3. What’s missing from a single person’s life?

It is not good for a man to be alone and he who finds a wife finds goodness, but it takes the beauty of a family to see the goodness far below the surface and in the crevices of these clay jars. Church, be that family, be the mothers and father, the sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honorable in marriage, and then, please, help them get there.

It is true, it’s not good for anyone to be alone but as Christians we must recognise that our loneliness is only fully met in Jesus. Earthly marriage is but a shadow of this, and it’s a shadow that, no matter how good, will never completely satisfy our need. Jesus is the one who does that. The answer to the lonely single person is not simple ‘get married’ (though of course they may) but to enjoy Jesus and his people.

This paragraph should say “It is not good for anyone to be lonely. Church, to those who are lonely, be their family. Be their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honourable in following Jesus and run the race beside them.”

(Here’s more stuff I’ve written about singleness)

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Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community

From the Gospel Coalition 

I looked nervously across the table, fidgeting with my coffee cup. Do you realize what you’re asking of me? he questioned. We’d been meeting for more than an hour, talking about his struggle with same-sex attraction and his decision about whether to enter into a more intentional relationship with his boyfriend. He’d been part of our church and community group for a couple of years, always intelligent and effervescent, exhibiting many marks of a mature Christian. Yet my friend’s dark internal struggle had finally reached its culmination, and here we were together in a coffee shop, grappling with the reality of his decision.

Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away.

Several years have passed since that conversation, but it’s convinced me of the vital relationship between sexuality and ecclesiology. There are many churches like ours that believe there are two possible paths for followers of Jesus to live obedient sexual lives: heterosexual marriage and sexual abstinence. But among churches that are committed to a biblical sexual ethic, there are few, I’m afraid, that make living out that ethic possible for the average person dealing with same-sex attraction.

I’m now convinced any church that holds a traditional view of sexuality must also foster a radical practice of Christian community in which living out a biblical sexual ethic becomes possible and even attractive.

This is a great article on the need for Christian community to a place where living a godly, counter-cultural life plausible, practical and attractive. While it focuses on Christians who have same-sex attraction, there’s lots in here that is true of all single Christians. Though this is an important distinction to remember

Those of us who are heterosexual must realize, however, that even though God is calling us to the same thing (chastity), our LGBTQ friends will experience this calling differently. When heterosexuals commit to chastity, they do so knowing they may meet someone, get married, and be able to have sex. When those tempted by same-sex attraction commit to chastity, though, they’re doing so knowing that unless God changes their sexual desires, they may never know the intimacy of a sexual relationship.

Of course for those of us who are still single in our mid-thirties, the possibility that we may never marry is very real. And, speaking on behalf of women, we live every day with the unforgettable sadness that every day that passes brings us closer to the possibility of never having kids. It does often feel like I have to bear this burden on my own. But Christian community should provide a better way.

Now picture the other scenario. Bob’s been introduced to Jesus by a community group at the invitation of a colleague. The group shares deeply and vulnerably, confessing sin and praying for one another. As Bob struggles with the prospect of chastity, he looks around the group and sees ways others in the group have embraced hard things because of the gospel. At least two other singles in the group are straight and have also embraced chastity. There’s a married couple who are honest about their struggles and failings but committed to not leaving each other despite the immense pain. Another person wasn’t willing to participate in the fraudulent activities of her company, and lost her job because of it.

In this scenario the demands of Jesus don’t lessen for Bob, but he does look around and see he’s not the only one being asked to lose certain things for the gospel. He sees a mixed community of married and single, same-sex attracted and straight, all bearing their crosses together and helping one another bear those heavy burdens. Our gay friends must see a church community in which all of us—not just those who battle same-sex attraction—are facing the demands of the gospel and the struggle against sin.

This is so important. I’m thankful for my married friends who are honest enough to share their struggles with me. Because it reminds me that the grass on their side of the fence has just as many muddy puddles as the grass I’m standing on. When I see the hardships that come with marriage, I’m much more likely to see the goodness of singleness. This is how I persevere.

But here is the most important challenge for churches.  Honour singleness & demystify marriage.

Another way we can create healthy countercultural plausibility structures is by removing marriage from the idolatrous pedestal on which it’s often placed. At times marriage, and the presumed sexual joy therein, is cast as such an objective for Christians that it starts sounding like the supreme goal, surpassing Jesus himself. Talk about “family values” cements this idea, suggesting God’s basic desire for human flourishing is for you to be married and start a family and, if you’re not experiencing that, then hurry up and try.

But the great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t describing love between husbands and wives or parents and kids but love between Christians in a church community. The Bible sees the church, not the nuclear family, as the primary level of relationships in our new kingdom life.

Further, we must return the New Testament’s high honoring of the single life. Whenever we treat singleness as a “second tier” calling or minor league to marriage we’re communicating to our single brothers and sisters that they’re experiencing less of the full human experience. This is obviously not the case. Jesus was single, and he was the perfect human. Paul advocated for singleness and even dubbed it a “higher calling” than marriage: “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).

Imagine a community in which many celibate singles, both same-sex attracted and straight, are taking full advantage of their singleness as they live the life of the kingdom together. Imagine a community in which sex and marriage are seen as good gifts but not ultimate gifts—indeed, things a follower of Jesus can live without. In such a community, the possibility of a single life of chastity wouldn’t be the fate worse than death it’s sometimes portrayed to be.

In short, we should not call our single friends to sexual abstinence until we create the social environments (plausibility structures) that make such a life meaningful and viable.

Spot on. Read the whole article here.

Death is not the end

20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Making Singleness Better

Yesterday one of our lectures at College directed us to this article from The Briefing.

The author, Tim Adeney, is thinking about singleness and the church, focusing on 1 Corinthians 7. In his introduction he notes that the response of many married people to single Christian – “Singleness is better, so get on with your life and deal with it”* – is inadequate because

it locates struggles with singleness solely with the single person, not within the entire Christian community; its consideration of the depth and causes of those struggles is cursory; and it does not reflect adequately on either 1 Corinthians 7 or the wider biblical witness.

I think his observation that this struggle is within the Christian community is a helpful one. For the single person there is an element of personal struggle but there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed, which is a lack of biblical understanding of singleness in the Christian community. This lack of understand manifests in a failure to adequately love the single people within the community.

Adeney recognises the eschatological reality that singleness reflects and then adds

However, we must not run ahead and get ourselves tangled in an over-realized eschatological stupor. While Jesus has indeed ushered in a new world order, he has not yet ushered in a new creation. We live in a new age and an old creation, and this old creation was made for marriage (cf. Gen 2:18-25). If our destiny is singleness, our created design is marriage. This does not detract from the status of being single; rather, it is a comment on its experience. In this creation, the ordinary pattern for humanity is marriage and family life, and while there is no suggestion in the Old Testament that being single is a sin, neither is there any suggestion that you would choose it. Perhaps we could go so far as to say that, from the point of view of our creaturely design, singleness isn’t better, and so we should expect any long-term singleness to be accompanied by grief and temptation to a greater or lesser extent.

Our created design was for marriage and the mandate to the first married couple was to fill the earth, but something substantial has changed since then. Jesus has come, and ascended and we await his return. A return that brings judgment upon those who do not follow him. We are living in the last days – surely this is the present crisis (vs 26), this is why the time is short (vs 29). Surely then the mandate changes from filling the earth to converting it (Matt 28:19ff).

Throughout the chapter, he provides us with a worked example of how to think eschatologically. “[T]he appointed time has grown very short” (v. 29), and all of us are called to live in light of that reality. Even married people must live as though they are not. How this eschatological reality affects decisions about singleness or marriage depends on what else needs to be considered along with the return of Christ. That is, Paul holds up a number of realities like lenses, and looks through them. In particular, he holds up the shortness of time and places it next to an appraisal of the practical realities of marriage as opposed to singleness. Thus he notes that marriage is complicated, involving “worldly troubles” (v. 28), whereas singleness leaves one “free from anxieties” (v. 32). He concludes that the opportunity to be single-mindedly devoted to “the things of the Lord” (v. 32) renders singleness a better option. But it is only better when certain realities or ‘lenses’ (i.e. the shortness of time and the practicalities of marriage) are considered; as he looks through both lenses together, his overall recommendation changes, which is why the person who is already married should stay married and the person who yearns for love should get married.

The problem with this is that the person who ‘yearns for love’ cannot simple decide to get married. Because, as you may have noticed, a marriage requires 2 people. So here we have (I suspect) the biggest group of single people in our churches – those who do yearn for love, but there’s nothing they can do about it. So how do we love them well? The section of his article titled The Church and Singles is, I think, very helpful (ignoring the fact that he constantly refers to single people as ‘singles’ which I hate).

THE CHURCH AND SINGLES

1. THE HABITS OF FAMILIES

The purpose of family is not only to be a blessing to its members, but also to be a blessing beyond itself. One of the major ways a family can bless beyond itself is by treating those who are outside as though they were inside. This, more likely than not, will require initiative (i.e. it won’t happen accidentally), and that initiative needs to come from the families, not the singles. Families in our culture generally don’t feel strong, but socially we are in a position where we can invite others. Our invitations need to be extensive and habitual. For example,

  • We could invite people into our homes—not just occasionally, but regularly. I’m sure there are many who would love to share a weekly meal with a family.
  • We could invite others to come on holidays with us.
  • Perhaps we could consider whether we could have others live with us. If we can’t do that where we live now, perhaps we could consider moving somewhere else where we could.

In addition, couples need to give each other space to build quality relationships with single people. At this point, it is worth taking a small detour to talk about how to relate to single people of the opposite gender. Paul counsels Timothy to treat “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim 5:2). Most Christian men have a predisposition to read just half this verse—that is, as either “treat younger women as sisters” or “treat younger women in all purity”. Men who do the former imagine that the distinctions of gender are no longer significant, and so relate to women as though they aren’t married, or as though the women are actually their biological sisters. Men who do the latter (which is more common in Christian culture) imagine that they can completely ignore women in the name of purity.

But both are wrong. Paul deftly avoids allowing me to deceive myself into thinking that there is no difference between my sisters in Christ and my biological sisters. But at the same time, he tells me where to get my cue for how to relate to my sisters in Christ. So I would not, in the ordinary course of events, hang out with my sisters in Christ without either my wife or their husbands, even though I would happily do this with my biological sisters. But I will offer lifts, I will have conversations, I will exchange the (occasional) email or text, I will give the (also occasional) hug, I won’t leave the house immediately if I come home and find that my wife has ducked out to the shops while a female friend minds my children, and if I could fix cars, I’d happily go over to a single friend’s place to spend an hour or two having a go. I think I can do these things without running the risk of unfaithfulness and creating a ‘hint’ of sexual immorality (Eph 5:3 NIV).

There’s 2 things I want to say from this. First: To my married friends – it is easier than you think to be a ‘blessing beyond [your]self’. Your house doesn’t need to be tidy, your cooking doesn’t need to restaurant quality, and your kids don’t need to be perfectly behaved. Being surrounded by the chaos of family life is something I love.

The second thing is that even though it sounds quite ridiculous that men would ignore women in the name of purity, it’s something I’ve been on the receiving end of. The comment from a married man that ‘I don’t know how to relate to single women’ was one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard. So I hope that men would make every effort to treat women as sisters and in all purity.

Adeney ends his article with a good aim for all our churches.

The Christian community needs to be one where the separate callings of marriage and singleness are both welcomed and honoured. Paul had a positive view of singleness, yet he also had harsh words for those who would “forbid marriage” (1 Tim 4:3). While we haven’t ‘forbidden’ singleness, Christians have allowed a culture to grow where it is ‘forbidding’. My hope is that, as a community, we can change to better look after those who are struggling with unwelcome circumstances, and that, once more, we will welcome the possibility of voluntary singleness for the sake of “the things of the Lord” as indeed “better” (1 Cor 7:32, 38).

If you are someone who struggles with singleness you can read more from me on the subject here including some links to helpful books and sermons.

I’d love to hear your thought on Adeney’s article too.

*No-one has ever said anything this harsh to me, but I get the point he is trying to make

Did I kiss marriage goodbye?

Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?: Trusting God with a Hope Deferred

I’ve just finished reading Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred by Carolyn McCulley. I think this is a book that every Christian single woman should read. And if you are married and have friends who are single, you should read it too, particularly if your friends are struggling with their singleness.

McCulley writes very honestly about her own feelings about being a 40-something single woman. As she writes about her experience she tells a story about the useless token presents that her and her sister gave to their mother when they were children, then she writes this –

This is how I can think about guts when I consider the biblical passage that calls singleness a gift (1 Cor 7). Calling marriage a gift doesn’t surprise me. I understand that. Over the years, I’ve tried to beg, bribe, borrow, and buy that gift. It simply can’t be done! I am now convinced I must wait to receive it. But how and when did I get this gift of singleness? I don’t recall putting it on my “wish list” or asking anyone to give it to me. I don’t remember opening it up and saying, “Ooohh, thank you! Singleness! How did you know? It’s perfect!” No, this is how I view singleness: While others walk down the wedding aisle to receive the golden gift of marriage, I’m standing to the side, sullenly holding my useless thingy-do of singleness.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this is something that I can really identify with. McCulley then goes on to write about context, definition, purpose and timing of the gift, as well as who assigns the gift. She writes

Ultimately, we are single because that’s God’s will for us right now. That’s it. It’s not because we are too old, too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too quiet, too loud, too smart, too simple, too demanding, or too anything else. It’s not wholly because of past failures or sin tendencies. It’s not because we’re of one race when many of the men around us are of another. It’s not because the men we know lean toward passive temperaments. It’s not because there are more women than men in our singles group. It’s not because our church doesn’t even have a singles group. Though perhaps these things seem like valid reasons, they don’t trump God’s will. One look at the marriages we know or the ones announced in the newspaper will assure us that these factors are present in many people’s lives, and they still got married. We are single today because God apportioned us this gift today.

Over the rest of the book McCulley uses the Proverbs 31 woman as a guide for how we should live as single woman. Surprised?

When I considered this for the first time, I laughed out loud. The very passage I often skipped because it was about an excellent wife was the key to understanding my singleness! Here was the guide I needed to show me how to invest my gift of singleness in the church. As I studied this woman, the priorities for my life came into focus. The role described in this passage is that of a wife, but her godly, noble character is what all woman should desire. It will serve us in every season of our lives.

I think this is a well written and very helpful book and I can’t recommend it enough.

So buy it. Now. Here it is on Amazon or The Book Depository.

I’d love to hear what you think about it.

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.

Just because you CAN do something….

… doesn’t mean you should do it.

There’s some great examples of this in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul says

Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. (vs 26)

Each one has an ability to contribute. Each one has something worth while to say. But in the same verse he says –

All things must be done for edification.

Sometimes this will mean being silent. For example, someone may speak in another language

but if there is no-one to interpret, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. (vs 28)

If there is no interpreter this gift fails to be done for edification of the church so the speaker, while given this particular gift, must choose not to use it at that time.

A second example is given – that of prophecy. A person may be sharing their word of prophecy

but if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. (vs 30)

Why??

God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (vs 33)

There is something bigger and more important than our own “right” to use our gifts as we please. That is not God’s concern and neither should it be ours. Our concern should be for others. In particular for the edification of the church, and the order and peace of God’s nature. This comes only with love. Love for our God and for others. Without love our gifts are nothing.

If I speak the languages of men and of angels but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so that I can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)