15 Bypassing Scriptural Authority

The Scriptures come to a Christian believer as writings that come from God and that hold authority over the life of the Christian people. Many people today have been unwilling to accept a role difference for men and women in contemporary Christian life. Some have disputed such a role difference on the basis of exegesis, holding that the scripture does not actually teach such a role difference or does not teach it consistently. Some have done so on the basis of applicability, holding that scripture was teaching for circumstances so different from ours that the scriptural teaching no longer applies. Still others, however, have disputed such a role difference while simply bypassing the authority of scripture. “Bypassing the authority of scripture” is a more accurate description of what these people do than “disputing the authority of scripture,” because many contemporary Christian authors treat scripture in a way that calls its authority into question, but does not explicitly reject that authority, or even directly confront the issue. Discussions of the roles of men and women are, in fact, one subject where Christian authors most commonly attempt to bypass the authority of scripture.

Modern Bypasses

Modern bypasses of the authority of scripture can be subtle and difficult to pick out. The clearest bypasses are those which directly challenge a teaching of scripture, either by preferring a different opinion, or by openly disagreeing with the scriptural approach. A less easily detected set of bypasses are those which label certain parts of scripture as bearing no authority. A still less easily detected set of bypasses are those which operate by stressing difficulties to force a choice of one scripture passage over another. What follows in this chapter is a discussion of some of the more common bypasses which appear in writings concerning the roles of men and women.

  1. Scripture must be in accord with my view of what is ethical, or I will have to reject it.

This view is stated in a strong form in the following quote:

Either religion promotes human development and well being or it is destructive and cannot be representative of the true God. This must be kept in mind when we insist that the life, human development and well being we are talking about is that of women as well as men. Then we can say with a clear conviction and without fear or guilt that if Jesus was not a feminist, he was not of God.1

This writer—and those who take a similar approach—is coming to scripture with an ethical conviction to which scripture (and Jesus) must measure up. In this case, the ethical conviction is embodied in the author’s feminist ideology. Scripture is not the judge; rather, the scripture is on trial. Jesus and the scripture could easily be rejected. The writer is placing herself and her ideology over the scripture and over the teachings of Jesus. And if the scripture is the inspired word of God, she is placing herself in a position of telling God whether his morality is acceptable to her.2

  1. The apostle cannot interpret scripture/​the gospel correctly.

This view is very common. It is expressed in the following quotes:

Timothy 2:13–14: “Let a woman keep silent with all submissiveness, for Adam was first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived.” The writer not only displayed poor logic but poor theology and misinterpretation of scripture. Eve alone is blamed for the mutual sin in the garden . . .3

Thirdly, St. Paul’s method of hermeneutics, that is, interpreting scripture, is not a method which would be acceptable in the twentieth century. Indeed, to accept his method would be to fall into anti-intellectualism. . . . St. Paul takes what we might call a fundamentalist interpretation of the Genesis narrative.4

Corinthians 11:2–16 is illuminating for us not because it contributes useful ethical practice for us in our time, except for the most rigid literalist, but precisely because it reveals what happens to a man, even a great theologian, when the gospel hits him in his “blind side.” It shows Paul’s inability to deal with the gospel and, as such, may be useful to us when we ourselves, blind to its intrusion, are blindsided by the gospel.5

These quotes are not good descriptions of Paul’s interpretation of the scriptures or the gospel. They are much better as illustrations of the authors’ misinterpretations of Paul. However, they illustrate a principle which is commonly employed: Paul (or some other scriptural writer) either does not understand certain elements of the Old Testament correctly, or he does not understand certain aspects of the teachings of Jesus. Hence, we do not have to submit to his teachings. At best, his writings on these points provide an object lesson of how someone can make mistakes in interpreting scripture. There are, to be sure, many difficulties in understanding how Paul interprets the Old Testament, and in understanding how some of Paul’s teaching relates to some of Jesus’ teaching. Yet, to resolve those difficulties by saying that Paul does not know how to interpret scripture or the gospel properly, and that therefore there is no need to follow what he says in a particular respect, is to disagree with canonical scripture. It may be acceptable for one to personally prefer different approaches to scriptural interpretation than those which Paul used. However, to dismiss what Paul teaches on the basis of one’s not agreeing with his approach to scripture is to disagree with scripture itself.

  1. Modern scholars understand scripture better than the apostle did.

This bypass is a variation on the previous one: The apostle cannot interpret the scripture correctly. However, it is a significant variation because it confers great authority on contemporary scholars (an authority often conferred by people who would consider themselves as being among those scholars). This view is demonstrated in the following quotes:

Then there is his biased statement which has been quoted with relish by preachers ever since: “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” Modern scripture scholars do not, of course, agree with this interpretation of Genesis. Moreover, Paul himself evidently noticed that there was something wrong and corrected himself immediately afterward . . .6

In [Timothy] 2:13, Adam and Eve are regarded as archetypes of man and woman (cf. Cor 11:8) and, according to ancient thinking, the older person, for example the first born son, was considered the better and the senior who should bear the authority. In this case, therefore, Adam is considered as the senior because he was formed first. This, as I have said, cannot be accepted according to the standards of modern Biblical scholarship. Scholars do not class the creation narratives in Genesis as history.7

The latter quote is based upon a mistake discussed in Chapter One, pp. 59, in which the author proceeds from a view that the creation narratives are not history in the modern sense to the unfounded conclusion that they do not teach truth. The former quote illustrates another common approach when a New Testament writer, interpreting another passage from scripture, disagrees with what contemporary scriptural scholarship understands to be the intent of the original author. The conclusion is then made that the New Testament writer has misunderstood the passage. This approach is dubious, in that it rests on the assumption that the meaning of the passage lies in the conscious intent of the human author, regardless of any intent that the divine author may have. The concern here, however, is primarily in the authority such quotes give to “contemporary scholarship.” “Contemporary scholarship” turns out to be more authoritative than the apostle in understanding scripture. It therefore is a source of opinion which might allow us to bypass, if not dismiss, teaching in scripture. Even an excellent scholar should not have higher authority for a Christian than the writers of scripture.

  1. The arguments given in scripture are not sufficiently cogent for us to accept them.

This is likewise a fairly common approach to dealing with scriptural teaching. The following quote expresses it well:

The bulk of Corinthians 11:2–16 is a defense of religion of the most feckless, prooftexty sort. . . . By the same dismal argument, Paul might have used the creation story to prove differences in race and class, declaring just as logically that these also were decreed by God. . . . As a consequence, because at bottom he knew he was wrong, he became angry, argued from propriety, nature and proof texts which did not prove. We are saying that he was not ignorant of the gospel here. Rather, he knew it and could not face it.8

Underlying this quote is a supposition that we can examine the arguments of the scripture writer, observe their quality, and then dismiss what his teaching is if the arguments appear inadequate. This writer not only dismisses Paul’s teaching, but dismisses it with contempt, placing himself in the position of judging how well the apostle Paul’s opinions measure up to “the gospel.” However, this line of thought rests upon an approach to arguments in general, and to argument in the scripture in particular, which is itself inadequate.

Arguments are a means of asserting a point to others; hence, their content depends upon the premises accepted by the people being addressed. Arguments for a peasant and a professor, for a German and a Malay, will often have to be framed differently, even though the basic assertions may be the same, and even though the person arguing draws from the same understanding in each case. An argument which convinces one person may not convince another whose circumstances are foreign to those of the argument. Many scriptural arguments will not appear convincing to us because they are not intended to address people from the modern thought-world. The scripture writer was primarily addressing those who accepted his own thought-world. The author of the above passage simply demonstrates that he is not in the category of people to whom Paul was addressing his arguments, not only by pronouncing the arguments inadequate, but also by his consistent failure to understand the meaning and significance of the arguments.

Yet, merely because these arguments were not aimed at the modern mind does not mean that the teaching in the passages in which those arguments occur need not be accepted. The authority of the teaching is established by the status of the passage as canonical scripture. It does not depend on the actual weight of the argument, much less on how weighty the argument happens to appear to a modern reader. Moreover, the scriptural argument itself can be instructive, even though it may not appear telling as an argument. For instance, Paul believes the Genesis account to be a very important grounding for his teaching on men and women, as well as his teaching in other areas. This reveals something about the authority of the Genesis account, and something about the way it should be approached by those seeking God’s revelation. Once Christians accept a scriptural argument as instructive even without finding it forceful or helpful, their understanding can be formed more fully. They will be able to understand the scripture more completely, and will be better able to perceive the force of the arguments in scripture instinctively. In short, the fact that someone does not find an argument from scripture convincing should not be a sign that the passage can be dismissed. Rather, it is a sign that there is something more to learn.

  1. I can dismiss certain elements of the scriptural teaching when they originate in an outside influence—such as rabbinic influence—rather than in the real Christian message.

To be sure, some writers would dismiss all New Testament teaching on the basis that it is due more to outside influences, but most of these persons do not identify themselves as Christians. However, some who consider themselves Christians would like to reserve the option to dismiss some New Testament teaching on that basis. The following quote contains a careful presentation of this approach:

To the question of whether this attitude toward women should be determinative for us, the answer in this case is clear. Paul’s regulations are to a certain extent a regression to rabbinic Judaism, which is so much the more comprehensible because the primitive community wished no revolution, at least not in the social area.9

Elsewhere this author uses the term “canonized rabbinism” to characterize those parts of the New Testament with which he does not agree. But for this writer and others like him, “rabbinism,” not “canonized,” is the more significant part of the phrase. According to this view, the fact that some element in the scriptural teaching is in accord with the rabbinic teaching, or was even drawn from it originally, provides ample grounds for rejecting it. The fact that this element is also “canonized”—that is, incorporated into the canonical word of God—does not carry as much weight. This position amounts to saying that “the rabbinism I agree with has authority, and the rabbinism I do not agree with does not have authority.” The key feature to notice is that the author feels able to judge with certainty where the scripture teaches truly and where it does not, and he can appeal to cultural influences as grounds for discounting the authority of portions of the New Testament. He assumes, in other words, an authority which allows him to judge the New Testament, to determine what within it is true and what is to be rejected. In short, this writer does not relate to the entire New Testament as genuinely authoritative.

This way of bypassing scriptural authority could be called “the genetic fallacy.” It is common in discussions of the roles of men and women. Someone slips into the genetic fallacy when they devote a great deal of attention to discovering the source of the teaching in scripture—not so as to better understand it, not even to better gauge its intent, but in order to evaluate its worth.10 They may decide, for instance, that some of Paul’s teaching about the roles of men and women is actually rabbinic teaching, that is, teaching which originated among the rabbis, was passed on to Paul in his rabbinic training, and was reproduced in his letters. They would then reason that, having discovered the origin of the teaching and having seen that it is rabbinic and stands in contrast with Paul’s new Christian inspiration, we can dismiss it in favor of the elements which, we have discerned, have their origin in new Christian insight.11

This whole proceeding carries with it a number of problems, not the least of which is the tentativeness with which the origins of different teachings can be discerned. For our purposes here, the primary problem with the genetic fallacy is that it bypasses the canonicity of the passage in question. If Paul’s teaching on the roles of men and women is in the canon, it bears scriptural authority. It makes no difference if he first heard it from Rabbi Gamaliel, or if he received it inscribed upon a scroll during a vision he had in the third heaven. The inspiration of the scripture does not mean that all scripture had to come by direct revelation, with no human help. Rather, it means that the selection of what is taught as truth was made under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, regardless of how it first came to the mind of the human author. If such teaching is in scripture, it is authoritative, no matter what its origin or what parallels it may have.

The genetic fallacy is one among many attempts to bypass scriptural authority by focusing on other factors in evaluating a passage than whether or not it is truly part of scripture. For instance, in some discussions of the roles of men and women, considerable attention is given to the latest critical opinion about which letters Paul actually wrote. Modern authors will sometimes argue that if a given passage was not actually written by Paul, there is no need to take the material in it all that seriously. In a study of the life and thought of Paul, there are good reasons for attempting to determine which books of the New Testament were actually written by Paul. However, whether or not a given scripture passage was actually written by Paul does not determine its authority. In a study of New Testament teaching on the roles of men and women, that the book in question is actually canonical (and perhaps that it comes to us under Pauline authority) is all that need be determined. If a book is canonical, various controversies over who wrote it are irrelevant for determining the truth of what it teaches.

  1. I can pick out what is truly important about scripture and judge the rest in terms of what is essential.

The quote on p. 360 is a good example of this attitude. The writer is convinced that he knows what “the gospel”—the important part of the New Testament teaching—truly is, and that he is able with some certainty to discard the scriptural teaching which is not in accord with “the gospel.” The following quote illustrates the same approach from a somewhat different angle:

The equal dignity and rights of all human beings as persons is of the essence of the Christian message. In the writings of Paul himself there are anticipations of a development toward realization of the full implications of this equality. We have seen that after the harshly androcentric text in Corinthians he attempts to compensate somewhat:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (Cor 11:11–12)

Moreover, the dichotomy of fixed classes as dominant-subservient is transcended:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27–28)

As one theologian has pointed out:

This does not mean that the kingdom of heaven has to do with non-sexed beings. Paul is enumerating the relationships of domination; these are radically denounced by the Gospel, in the sense that man no more has the right to impose his will to power upon woman than does a class or a race upon another class or another race.

It is not surprising that Paul did not see the full implications of this transcendence. There is an unresolved tension between the personalist Christian message and the restrictions and compromises imposed by the historical situation. It would be naive to think that Paul foresaw social evolution. For him, transcendence would come soon enough—in the next life. The inconsistency and ambivalence of his words concerning women could only be recognized at a later time, as a result of historical processes. Those who have benefitted from the insights of a later age have the task of distinguishing elements which are sociological in origin from the life-fostering, personalist elements which pertain essentially to the Christian message.12

The author of this quote asserts her ability to distinguish the true Christian message from the rest of the material in the New Testament, and to hold to that true, essential message. What she picks out as the essence of the Christian message will probably fail to convince most Christians that she has a very good grasp on what the New Testament is saying. The quote is, in fact, an excellent example of the position which judges the New Testament with a standard derived from a non-scriptural source—in this case, modern personalist ethics. Holding this position leads to approving the New Testament where it agrees with the external standard, dismissing it as having no authority or value where it fails to agree. To claim an ability to choose what is the essential or valuable New Testament message is to set oneself over the New Testament as its judge and to evaluate the New Testament itself.

The last two ways of bypassing scriptural authority illustrate a common approach found in modern writings on the roles of men and women. Many modern writings on scripture are pervaded by a search for authority in Christian teaching. Many Christians, among them many scripture scholars, have lost their belief in the creed and the commandments, in Christianity as taught to us by the New Testament. They have not, however, lost all commitment to various elements of Christianity. Perhaps they have some commitment to Christ, or to the Christian symbol system, or to the church in which they hold office, or to teaching the discipline of Christian theology. Having lost a foundation in what formerly would have been understood as orthodoxy in all Christian churches, they are seeking criteria for calling something “Christian” or “authoritative,” or are seeking bases for holding views with other “Christians” and for acting together with them.13

This search for a new standard may take various forms. Some will look for the “unique or distinctive Christian message,” proceeding as if, once they had found those elements which have not been held in common with any previous people—whether rabbis, Greek philosophers, or anyone else—they would have the elements of the New Testament which truly bear authority. Others will use a doctrinal view (that of Christian freedom, for instance) as a standard for determining what else in the New Testament is truly Christian. Still others will attempt to reconstruct the “authentic” teaching of Christ (or of Paul)—as if a modern scholar’s presentation of Christ’s teaching is likely to be purer or freer from a personal shaping of Christ’s message than that of an apostle who lived in the same milieu as Christ and was taught by him or by someone close to him.14 Such efforts can have a certain persuasiveness, and they are often illuminating. But it is not until we see that they are an attempt to establish a new authority, a new canon, replacing the one that has been handed down to us, that we can recognize them for what they are.15

Some Christian writers hold firm to the principle that all scriptural teaching must be accepted as authoritative, yet, at times, the practice does not follow the theory. One of the more curious lapses in an active acceptance of the authority of scripture can be found among some modern Evangelicals who are very firm in their defense of the authority of scripture. They strongly defend what could be called the “doctrinal basics”; for example, the divinity of Jesus or the importance of the atonement. “Where the scripture teaches,” they would say, “there we must believe, because the authority of scripture is supreme.” Yet they will often neglect to apply this principle to scriptural teaching about personal relationships and Christian social structure. In these areas they feel content to supplant scriptural teaching with the norms of our society, often without seeing any need to justify what they are doing. These Evangelicals are committed to fight in defense of scripture in the places where it was being challenged vigorously fifty years ago, but they do not uphold scriptural authority in many of the places where it is being most vigorously challenged today.

  1. I am trying to be led by the Spirit, and the Spirit has not led me to adopt the kind of position that scripture seems to teach.

This approach is not commonly represented in scholarly literature, but can be commonly heard among Christians at large. It is another way of denying the authority of scripture without seeming to do so. The above statement could actually be approached in two very different ways. The first of these ways (touched upon in the previous chapter in the discussion about submission to scripture) involves avoiding an overly legalistic approach to scripture. People need not always submit to scripture legalistically. Those who are seeking to follow the Lord and to submit their minds to his truth can wait upon the Lord’s assistance. They can accept a truth as the Lord teaches them the reality of the truth and a way of applying that truth in their own lives. In this sense, waiting for the leading of the Spirit is not a refusal to accept the authority of scripture. It is simply a confession of the need to have more than the bare written page of scripture in order to arrive at the truth—in this case, the need for some direct help from the Holy Spirit. To understand the meaning of scripture and how to apply it needs light from the Holy Spirit. A submissive person can wait for God’s light before attempting to implement scriptural teaching.

There is, however, a second way of approaching the above statement, in which being “led by the Spirit” can be a way to bypass scriptural authority. This happens when someone makes the Spirit’s leading the decisive factor in accepting anything as true. When such people say they are “waiting for the Spirit’s leading,” they are saying that they personally require direct revelation or inspiration in order to accept something as true. In a discussion of a topic like the roles of men and women, it can often mean that they have a suspicion or a conviction that the Spirit is leading Christians nowadays differently than he was leading the early Christians. It would be a mistake, they feel, to pattern our lives on the way he was leading a group of Christians two thousand years ago. Such a position does not deny outright the authority of scripture, but it does amount to such a denial in practice. If the scripture teaches “Thou shalt not steal,” one should not need a personal revelation to ascertain whether the Spirit will lead one to steal or not. In fact, any “spirit” who leads someone to contradict the teaching of canonical scripture is exhibiting clear signs of not being the one Holy Spirit. One of the greatest values of possessing a canon of scripture is that it provides a means of discerning spirits. The scripture and other teachings were given in order that the minds of Christians could be formed so as to perceive spiritual influences in the right way. For a Christian to neglect the highest teaching authority in favor of individual or collective revelation or inspiration is a major spiritual mistake.

  1. There are contradictions in scripture. Or, at least some approaches in scripture are so much at variance with one another that we cannot hold both with intellectual integrity. Hence, we can only hold to some of scripture.

Certain aspects of this position have been discussed in earlier chapters. Modern writers have asserted contradiction or variance in the scripture’s teaching on the roles of men and women in two primary places: between Jesus and Paul, and between Galatians 3:28 and much of the rest of Paul’s teaching on men and women.16 In both these instances (as was treated in Chapters Six and Ten), the contradictions cited are more apparent than real. The actual contradiction is not between Jesus as the New Testament evidence shows him to be and Paul, or between Galatians 3:28 as Paul really meant it and the other key texts. Rather, it is between Jesus (or Gal 3:28) as understood or wished by certain modern writers and the rest of the New Testament teaching in our area. Such contradictions arise from the interpretations of modern writers, not from the scripture.

The question remains, however, how people who approach the scripture as authoritative and from God should deal with the contradictions which they think they might be perceiving. Scripture scholarship in the last 150 years or so has made the question of contradictions in scripture an acute one for Christians. Hegelian thought patterns affected German Protestant scripture scholarship throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. In turn, German Protestant scripture scholarship has been an important influence among academic scripture scholars in other countries and environments. Even when scripture scholars do not adopt actual Hegelian positions, the dominant Hegelian dialectical thought form often persists.17 Dialectical thinking leads a person to see historical development in terms of opposition and contradiction that need to be resolved. An instinctively dialectical temper, which scripture scholars possess because of their training, will tend to presume opposition and contradiction, or to perceive things in those terms, even when the evidence is not strong that such contradiction is present. Even where the dialectical temper among scripture scholars has been less prominent, an oppositional or contrasting rather than a synthetic style of thought is still valued, leading scholars to stress the differences between various New Testament “theologies,” and “church orders.”18

Moreover, where the historical approach prevails in New Testament scholarship, there is a tendency to place greater emphasis on the “genetic origins” of different opinions and approaches in the New Testament, and in so doing, to contrast different communities and authors, so that an evolutionary description can be traced. The results of this scholarly attempt to discern differences between authors and communities in the New Testament have been mixed. Some go beyond the available evidence and occasionally even fly right in the face of available evidence. Some have been of real value. Yet, however valuable it may be, this approach does produce a problem at times for Christians who are not as interested in an evolutionary description of biblical thought in an area as they are in what the word of God is teaching them about how to live their lives. The two perspectives involved are different.

How then does one seeking to learn from God’s word approach a perceived contradiction? There are three main approaches. One approach is to use the contradiction as a means for eliminating one of the passages.* However, such an approach is a denial of the authority of scripture as a whole. Perhaps many who eliminate passages this way do so on the basis of a conviction that scripture as a whole cannot have authority because of such discrepancies. The second approach could be called the harmonizing approach. This approach smooths out seeming contradictions, and often differences as well, by maintaining that the authors are really asserting the same thing. Two passages on the same subject will be interpreted by each other with the understanding that they must be making the same point because they have the same author—the Holy Spirit. However, harmonizing has an important drawback: It often leads to passing over important differences between passages, books, authors, and communities.

The third approach could be called the synthetic approach. The synthetic approach is based upon the view that differences in the New Testament can often be combined into a stronger synthesis, a synthesis which can be richer once the differences have been understood. Ephesians 5:22–33 and Peter 3:1–7, for instance, present many differences when compared with each another. Yet the stress in Peter on the wife’s respect for her husband can be combined with the stress in Ephesians on her subordination to provide a fuller picture of how the wife should relate to her husband. The passages can be synthesized even after recognizing that they are not saying exactly the same thing.

Some assert that there is not sufficient unity in the New Testament to make either a harmonizing or a synthesizing approach intellectually honest. This issue cannot be fully discussed at this point, although the previous chapters indicate that such a view is based more on presuppositions than on actual evidence. The concern of this chapter is not with the historical question of unity in the New Testament, but with the approach that a believing Christian should take to the New Testament canon.

For such Christians, the question at this point is: What does the New Testament teach—that is, assert authoritatively*—and what do believers do when they think the New Testament might be asserting two contradictory or incompatible things? A complete answer cannot easily be given here, but two points are important for someone who approaches the scripture as the canonical word of God. First, a Christian cannot hold that scripture is actually teaching two contradictory things in areas where it is intending to teach. If the whole scripture is the canon, the measure of all else and of highest authority, then it cannot be teaching two irreconcilable statements. It is not possible to hold that the scripture is fully canonical and also contains contradictions. Secondly, Christians do not have to feel responsible for reconciling everything they see in scripture. They may see an apparent contradiction, but the right approach is frequently to acknowledge that they do not yet understand how the two statements go together, and to wait for some resolution compatible with submission to scripture. In such an approach, the final criterion is a faith criterion about the authority of scripture, rather than a criterion which makes one’s own mind or modern scholarship the final arbiter. The lesson from the study of Galatians 3:28 in Chapter Six is that once an interpreter would let go of some of the presuppositions of contemporary society which have the strongest hold, the apparent contradiction in the scripture would disappear. At such times, scripture can be seen in a perspective which the reader has been unwilling to even consider. In other words, it is not intellectually dishonest for a Christian to hold that scripture does not contradict itself. Often, more complete understanding actually dissolves the seeming contradiction.

To this point in the chapter, we have discussed eight of the major bypasses of scriptural authority. There is yet another way of calling into question the authority of scripture which cannot be listed as a bypass on its own, but which pervades much of the literature on the roles of men and women—namely, a disrespect for the scriptures or for one of the authors of scripture (Paul receives more than his share of this). We are told at times that “Paul confuses himself and us” or that “Paul was a typical male” or that “Paul knew the gospel and could not face it.” The authors of these lines demonstrate a freedom to express disrespect for Paul which clearly indicates that they have not submitted themselves to the writings of Paul (that is, to part of scripture) as to writings which bear an authority over them. They are holding themselves as the ones whose evaluation counts, and even Paul has to receive their approval. Such disrespect for an author of scripture, and thus toward scripture itself, is a manifestation of the underlying spiritual attitude with which they approach Christianity.

Summary  ▷  The Need to Submit to Scripture

In summary, there is a variety of ways of bypassing the authority of scripture—that is, of dismissing what scripture says as having no authority without directly disputing scripture’s authority. Some of these bypasses are based upon preferring another authority to that of scripture, perhaps an ethical theory or a scholarly view which would dispute the teaching of scripture. In effect, preferring another authority to that of scripture is setting up a judge over scripture, a judge with higher authority than the scripture itself. Those who advance such views are submitting to something other than scripture rather than to scripture itself. Others of these bypasses proceed by dismissing the authority of certain parts of the New Testament in favor of other parts of it. Although these approaches are often stated with a reverence for scripture (parts of it), they in fact rely on something other than the scripture itself for sorting out scripture. Some theory of influences, some ethical judgment, some preference for a particular doctrine or interpretation of a particular doctrine, becomes the canon by which scripture is measured and by which parts of it are found wanting. This too is submitting oneself to something other than scripture itself and making oneself a judge of scripture.

The authority of scripture as a standard by which to measure all other teaching has been unquestioningly recognized by Christians until the last century or so. On this subject Catholics and Protestants have been at one. Now, however, there is significant unclarity on the subject among those who call themselves Christians. The result of the unclarity has been to leave many Christians without the criteria which allow them to ascertain what the truth is. Christian thinking has consequently become increasingly subject to influences from the secular world. Teaching about roles of men and women is by no means the most important area of Christian teaching. It is, however, probably because it is not of first importance that it has felt the influence of some principles of Christian thinking that will eventually be used elsewhere. If someone can be a Christian and can disagree with the scripture in this area, putting his own judgment or the judgment of scholars or of modern thought over the scripture, he can do so in any other area.

The next area for the application of such principles is commonly that of homosexuality. Then follows the rest of Christian sexual morality, and then practically any area of Christian life. Once a principle for judging scripture is accepted, it can be validly applied to any subject matter. This does not mean that someone cannot disagree with this book’s approach to the roles of men and women without automatically challenging the authority of scripture. People can disagree with what has been said in this book on other grounds. They can dispute the interpretation of the texts, or disagree with the judgment made about the intent of the scriptural writer in saying what he said in the texts, or reject the approach (to be set forth in the rest of this book) about how to apply the texts. But when people understand that something is actually taught in scripture, and then disagree with it, they are on spiritually dangerous grounds for a Christian, because they are disagreeing with the canonical word of God. For a Christian, this is rebellion. It is believing the serpent once again when he disagrees with what God has said (Gn 3:4).

The Real Challenge

The first part of this book has been concerned with the scriptural teaching on the roles of men and women. The earlier chapters argued that scripture presents a unified teaching on the roles of men and women—one which is significant within scriptural teaching as a whole. Those chapters also maintained that this teaching was delivered as something valid for all Christians, and it was not merely designed to handle a special social or cultural situation. The last two chapters have dealt with questions concerning the authority of scriptural teaching. They have held the view that any attempt to place another authority over the scripture is a fundamental mistake. To use an alternate authority to revise or nullify (rather than interpret) something in scripture denies in practice the supreme authority that Christians have always accorded to scripture.

One could get the impression from these last two chapters that it would not be difficult to simply follow the scriptural teaching today in much the same way that the early Christians did. The point of these chapters, however, is not to deny that real difficulties or objections regarding the application of the teaching exist. These chapters address only the issue of scriptural authority, not that of application. Their point is that Christians should not raise objections which ultimately call into question the authority of scriptural teaching. Many Christians, in attempting to cope with the real problems—both social and intellectual—of living as a Christian in the modern world can end up jettisoning Christian essentials and denying the authority of Christian revelation. Often, they do not do so in a clear, carefully considered way, but they do so nonetheless.

The more difficult question of applying the scripture remains. It is here that the most serious objection to applying the scriptural teaching on the roles of men and women is encountered. Behind many of the questions about culture, intent, and authority lie significant concerns or objections regarding the applicability of the scriptural teaching on men and women. The differences between the world of the scripture and our own world seem to call into doubt the possibility of applying the scripture’s teaching today. Human society has changed so drastically since the times of Jesus, especially in the last few centuries, that it is very difficult to conceive of following scriptural teaching on almost anything related to social structure. What is more, most Christians cannot even find a context within which they could follow the scriptural teaching on the roles of men and women without causing major offense. Their own homes are the only possible opportunity, but for many even the home is not a real possibility because the family members are no more open to such an approach than is the rest of society. For instance, many women might be eager to assume the kind of role for wives which they read about in scripture, but they often have husbands whom they do not feel they can trust, or, even more, who are unwilling to be heads in the scriptural sense.

Finally, there are many situations not covered by scriptural teaching—and they are often the situations which are most important. For instance, whether a woman should be a head of a Christian community is a minor question in most women’s lives compared with the multitude of job and education questions confronting her, questions such as whether a woman should be a doctor, a lawyer, a foreman, an airplane pilot, a major administrator, a senator, or a corporation executive. Similarly, the question of wearing headcoverings in worship services seems to be trivial when one is confronted with issues raised by unisex clothing styles. The world has changed so much that the scriptural teaching seems distant, if not positively inapplicable.

This problem of applying scripture arises from the current situation in which we find ourselves. “We” here primarily means Christian people in a contemporary technological society which has been “Westernized” to some significant degree. The question is: How can Christians, in their current circumstances, reasonably interpret and apply what the scripture enjoined in some very different circumstances? In what way should they approach and receive the teaching in those authoritative texts? In order to provide more of a basis for answering these serious questions of interpretation and application, the third part of this book will examine data from the social sciences (especially psychology and anthropology) on men-women differences, and will then assess the current situation from the perspective of social history. In light of these investigations, the difficult question of application can then be more profitably addressed.

370*As was noted above, the principle of understanding some parts of scripture by means of other parts of scripture is a good Christian principle. Traditional interpretation of the Old Testament, for instance, relies on interpreting it by means of the New Testament. However, it is unacceptable for Christians to eliminate the authority of one New Testament passage by pitting it against another.

370†Throughout this book it has been necessary to stress the difference between two perspectives. The perspective of a Christian who believes the New Testament to be the inspired word of God is different from someone who does not believe this. Most scripture scholarship is written from the perspective of someone who is not a Christian, even when it is written by Christians. The criteria are different when using the two perspectives. The question of how to deal with what one perceives as discrepancies or contradictions is another example of a place where the two perspectives come in. When one is looking at the scripture from the perspective of someone who has no faith, or when one is arguing for the reliability of scripture to those who have no faith, it is impossible to begin with the principle of the unity of scripture or with the view that there cannot be contradictions. The substantial unity of scripture, or the harmony of scripture, is exactly what must be proved. On the other hand, that does not mean that someone arguing for the reliability of scripture has to actually handle all discrepancies or dismiss scripture. There is such a thing as making too good a case. From the apologetic point of view, it is enough to establish the substantial unity and harmony of scripture to establish its reliability. The demand to handle all difficulties is an unreasonable demand, especially in view of the incompleteness of historical evidence for the scriptural period.

371*The concern of this discussion is with places where the New Testament intends to teach us. Other areas where contradictions or discrepancies may seem to arise—such as discrepancies of historical fact—are not included in this discussion.