On their joint website, God's Character, Dorothee and Brad Cole have posted a response to Sacramento Central Adventist Church senior pastor, Doug Batchelor, who asserts that the Bible forbids women's ordination. The article's primary thesis is that the problem Batchelor makes is failing to understand the culturally-conditioned nature of biblical material.
“Those who come to the conclusion that there is not a distinction made in the Bible all the way from Adam to Revelation in the roles of men and women in the church have to go through the most phenomenal mind bending gymnastic to escape the plain truth, that it's incomprehensible to me. But you know if you tell people a lie often enough they’ll believe just about anything.”
In the midst of a string of quotes from the writings of Paul such as, “Women submit yourselves to your own husbands…” (Ephesians 5:22), Batchelor then makes his most revealing statement in the sermon:
“Some will say, well he (Paul) was off his medication those days. [Or] that [this] just doesn’t really matter. Paul was being influenced by the traditions of the culture. So we’re not supposed to take these verses seriously. What’s gonna happen to your Bible? How are you gonna chop up your scriptures if you start picking and choosing what passages and commands you think the writers were under some imbalanced influence of the cultures of the day?”
He went on to say, “The ultimate authority biblically, for God’s people, from Adam to the present day, has been that men are to be the priest leaders in the family and in the church. They are to be ordained. What that means is, God has designed in his order of things, doesn’t matter how popular it is, or what the world says, it’s what the word says – that men should have the authority to be the spiritual guides, the leaders in family…So when God says things in his word should be a certain way, are we going to tell him he’s wrong? We may not understand it, but the first thing before we understand is to submit to what he says.”
In other words, Batchelor is saying that whatever the Bible writers wrote 2,000 years ago holds just as true for us today, in specific detail and in specific situations, otherwise we are “picking and choosing” what we want to believe. But should we completely detach Paul’s advice about women from the setting of the 1st century? Or are Paul’s words meeting the needs of that specific time and culture? It seems that if we read the Bible completely out of its historical context, we are in trouble in a hurry.
Let’s consider whether these Old Testament passages primarily apply to that time and culture or if they apply to us today:
In the Old Testament, if a woman was “proven” not to be a virgin when she married (which was determined by how much blood was on the wedding sheet) she was to be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21) “When two men are in a fight and the wife of the one man, trying to rescue her husband, grabs the genitals of the man hitting him, you are to cut off her hand. Show no pity.” (Deuteronomy 25:11) - [some have argued that this verse should be translated, "You shall shave her groin."] “If a man takes a second wife, he must continue to give his first wife the same amount of food and clothing and the same rights that she had before.” (Exodus 21:10)
A person would end up in jail if he or she tried to enforce any of these three examples today. These examples do not apply to our time and culture. We need to be able to read passages like this and say, “The Bible is the inspired word of God, but these words were given for a time and culture that is very different than the one I live. In this specific case, I will not do what the Bible says. It’s amazing how God condescends to meet people where they are.”
Numerous Old Testament verses like this could be listed. The New Testament presents more of a problem, however. We assume that, “Now we get it straight,” that there’s nothing in the New Testament that is tainted by culture and that everything in the New Testament specifically applies to us today. But what about these passages?
In the context of saying that “the head of woman is man” (1 Corinthians 11:3), Paul goes on to say, “A woman dishonors her head if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head. Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, she should cut off all her hair…a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority” (1 Corinthians 11:5,6,10).
If we read on, however, Paul admits that these words can only be read in the context of his culture: “But if anyone wants to argue about this, I simply say that we have no other custom than this, and neither do God’s other churches” (1 Corinthians 11:16).
A few chapters later, Paul advises, “The women should keep quiet in the meetings. They are not allowed to speak; as the Jewish Law says, they must not be in charge. If they want to find out something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is a disgraceful thing for a woman to speak in a church meeting” (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).
In the 21st century, is it really a “disgraceful thing for a woman to speak in a church meeting”? Interestingly, Batchelor’s does allow for some cultural interpretation of this particular verse. He rightly points out that the “Oracle of Delphi was a priestess” and that Paul is trying to prevent Jewish women from acting like those priestesses and “in that context, Paul is saying, tell them [the women] to be quiet. They’re not supposed to be teaching – meaning in the capacity of a pastor.” If cultural context is appropriate for this particular text, we should be able to apply the same standard to other texts as well.
In fact, those who deny that there is no room for contextual interpretation and apply Paul’s words about women in this passage to our time and culture, should be the first to go all the way and to also follow Paul’s advice for men, “It is good for a man not to marry” (1 Corinthians 7:1).
These words can only be understood in the context of a specific time and culture. During the time of Corinth, it is said that there may have been as many as 1000 temple prostitutes at the Temple of Apollo. These early converts to Christianity were coming out of paganism and had many pagan remnants in their worship and beliefs about God. For example, Paul counseled people against baptisms for the dead, not to get drunk at the Lord’s supper, to avoid the wild and unintelligible speaking of tongues, to “keep away from the worship of idols” (1 Corinthians 10:14), and even how to deal with a man in church who was sleeping with his stepmother. Finally an exasperated Paul says, “I declare to your shame that some of you do not know God” (1 Corinthians 15:34). What Paul is saying with regards to women is that the early church must distinguish themselves from the pagans and to at least take a step in the right direction in comparison to the role of woman as temple prostitutes, for example, in the pagan religions.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2282