The Science of God vs. The Message of God

October 17, 2007

or … Ben on interpretive clarity, precedence of literature types, and subconscious presuppositions as regards the meaning of the Bible.

This is a hard subject to sum up, but I’m going to do my best. And feel free to be brutal in the comments, I have a feeling this is going to be … shooting from the hip? Please note, too, that as in many things, this is a “balancer” … just as we need both detail types and overarching types, I think we need my perspective and your (Danny and Lee, that is) perspective … or else, a synthesis of both.

1) The NT passages taken as explicit are taken as such based on unchallenged assumptions

So, all those commands in the NT? Like, women shall be silent in church? Or, pray without ceasing? These are all written specifically to people. People who have been dead for 1,950 years. When you are using the Science of God, you have already assumed, like those who claim promises specifically spoken to Israel as their own (Jer 29:11), that these commands apply to you as well.

2) Precedence of “explicit” passages over non-explicit ones is an unproven assumption

Lee had a good point when he said that the concept of “mercy before sacrifice” was written elsewhere in the OT. But this doesn’t change the fact that Jesus responded with a “story-based” argument; and I’m confident we could find more examples of this kind of interpretation. To say, “Explicit doctrinal passages carry more weight than story-based teaching” is essentially to fulfill the accusations of our liberal detractors: it changes the religion of Jesus to the religion of Paul. This assumption is a modernist one, enlightenment-based, and I challenge you to prove it without recourse to philosophy / tradition.

3) Precise interpretation can use a passage in a way the Biblical author would not have intended

As Lee so rightly pointed out in a quote from Lewis, “What I think I can say with certainty is that [reviewers, interpreters of his work] are usually wrong.”A close reading of a passage can bear fruit, but look long enough and close enough and you can see just about anything. Too many sermons that I’ve heard have taken the basic face-value meaning of a passage, and dissected it into oblivion. Certainly you folks will not disagree with me on this point.

4) Passages can be descriptive rather than prescriptive

We consider passages on slavery, like those in the OT describing incest, as descriptive rather than prescriptive. That is, a passage instructing a slave to serve their master well is not condoning the system of slavery, but instructing us how to behave if we find ourselves in that situation. And yet, how much of the complementarian view is based on the very same kind of admonition? If, as I am constantly reminded at every Christian men’s event, submission passages imply that God’s design was for men to be above women, why then can we flip that on its head with the slavery passages? Two words … Double. Standard.


18 Responses to “The Science of God vs. The Message of God”

  1. nathanwells Says:

    “If, as I am constantly reminded at every Christian men’s event, submission passages imply that God’s design was for men to be above women, why then can we flip that on its head with the slavery passages? Two words … Double. Standard.”

    Good point Ben – I never thought of that. I know you said a lot of other things, but this last one is the one that hit me most.

    While I think I could argue – I want to think about it more.

    These are all good questions.

  2. Ben Says:

    Thanks Nathan. Feel free to let it ruminate, and weigh in later … I value your feedback / criticism! That’s how I learn best.

  3. Lee Says:

    1) Something I’ve struggled with as well….

    2) I was actually quoting “obedience rather than sacrifice” (Samuel to Saul), but given the passage in Matthew, which quotes Hosea, yes – mercy as well. (He actually gave the Pharisees 2 reasons they were wrong there.) Note that Jesus also explicitly (re-)interpreted the OT in light of, well, Himself: Matt 19:8ff, Luke 4:17-21, etc. Furthermore, He also very helpfully interpreted at least two parables (Matt 13). Also, the writers of the Gospels all interpreted OT passages for us. So it’s not just Paul, and there’s a lot of precedent.

    3) Remember that that quote from Lewis was in the broader context of his critique on the higher critics. He was essentially arguing for plain, contextual interpretation of scripture over the wildly over-analyzed ramblings of the higher critics. I’m not saying that what you describe doesn’t happen in pulpits today – but I don’t think you can use that quote from Lewis here.

    4) “…men to be above women” – how do these events you go to define “above”, exactly? The complementarian view is based on roles and the models of the Father to Christ and Christ to the Church, and has very strong scriptural support, as I see it. See CMBW link 1, link 2.

    How are you relating these views w/ those on slavery, exactly? (NT, I assume, like Eph 6 and Philemon.)

  4. Ben Says:

    2) a) There is precedent for explanation of story-based teaching. That does not equate to “precedence” of direct teaching; precedence of direct teaching (right or wrong) is a philosophical choice made by the interpreter and not by the Bible. b) Though there are counter-examples, surely you would admit that the bulk of Paul’s teaching is much more direct than the bulk of Jesus’ teaching (though of course, much of Paul’s falls into tSoG fallacy #1?) c) the use of the OT by the NT writers is, to modern methods, atrocious; perhaps indicating, again, that our interpretive methods are not the Bible’s.

    Actually I have a couple lectures I’ve been meaning to listen to on this subject by “the Don” (D.A. Carson). You can find them here:

    3) Uh, if you think so … but it seems that he is talking about the problems of close reading in a general sense as well. And even if my explanation is bad, you still know what I mean. It’s the Science of God. Take this passage and remove its liver and spleen.

    4) As you see it, perhaps. I see a bunch of passages that fall under tSoG fallacy #4. Do you understand the principle, though, even if you don’t agree with the example?

    Uh, as far as I remember, the Eph 5/6 stuff about wife submission is hand in hand with verses addressing slavery. I find them to be too similar to interpret two different ways.

  5. Ben Says:

    CMBW (a group I am confident in not agreeing with)

    link 1) Paul says “but I am speaking of Christ and the church”. What if the comparisons of Christ and the church are illustrations intended to explain Christ and the church rather than prescriptions for the way a family unit must be structured … just as Christ’s description in parables of God as the Master and humans as the Slaves does not necessarily condone the human practice of slavery (tSoG #4 again). And another thing, to accept a higher position of the man, you must accept the monarchy of the Father. There is a distinct chain described in at least one of those passages that goes Man -> Woman, Christ -> Church, Father -> Son.

    link 2) Whatever. Their interpretation could be correct, but is a stretch, and has the unfortunate effect of making every men’s event I attend a discussion of, “How can we be in charge in the home?” What a bore, and how irrelevant to my marriage. Of course, that’s a very insensitive thing for me to say, because some people probably need to hear that, but to boil down the entire Biblical plan of marriage into an authority object lesson is, well, incorrect and a waste.

    I read parts of their book. They have people signing it in the back (endorsing) and it’s like “Wayne Grudem, Ph.d, seminary professor” and junk, and the two or three women are like “Alice Jones, Ph.D, homemaker”. They have an article in that book that forbids women to drive a bus. That was the point when I said, “I don’t think they’re on target here …”

  6. Lee Says:

    Much more later… but for now:

    link 1) Where does the mystery appear to be to you? I think it’s pretty evident on the face of things that the mystery is how the quote from Genesis relates to Christ and the church. Where else is there mystery in this section? I think you have to tweak the passage to avoid reading it as a prescription for marriage. It starts out with a direct comparison, after all!

    22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Monarchy – well, as Danny said in the previous discussion, if you look at the submission of Christ in terms of roles and not divinity or authority, it all works out. At least, I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise (and it seems the same for Danny). And roles are exactly what the CMBW people talk about in terms of the complementarian view being based on the model of Father-Son-Church. I think those who have a hard time w/ the complementarian view get stuck on headship/role being equivalent to “man over woman”. Now – that’s not to say that people embracing the complementarian view don’t in practice also confuse them, adding to the overall confusion between the two camps….

    link 2) Again, what are they saying at the events you go to, exactly? Don’t they focus at all on the sacrificial service of Christ for the church, the sanctifying, the presenting spotless, the loving as you love yourself, etc.? For wives, there’s only “wives submit”, “wives be subject”, and “wives respect” – which you could look at as 3 views of the same action/attitude. The focus is on the husband’s responsibilities.

  7. Lee Says:

    Oh – can you point me to the section in the book (or on the web) where it discusses women not driving buses?

  8. Lee Says:

    Wives/husbands (and church/Christ):

    5:21 – be subject to one another

    5:22 – “subject to” isn’t actually there – it’s a reference back to 21 (Nathan? Danny?)

    5:24 – as the church is subject to Christ – same word as above for subject

    5:33 – wife … respects [interestingly… I didn’t know that was the word until now] her husband

    Contrasted with children/parents, slaves/masters:

    6:1 children, obey your parents

    6:5 slaves, be obedient to your masters – same as 6:1

  9. Ben Says:

    Yeah, it was in the book. Chapter 3 I think, they’re all different writers. I don’t think it’s just the men’s events that have the problem … because I found their book just as irritating. This is not actually on topic for the post, but whatever.

    The complementarian (CBMW) view claims to not condone placing the man above the woman, but, as in many things, their beliefs have consequences that they probably don’t realize. For one thing, it’s making too big a deal out of a small, and to my mind, not entirely clear issue. For another thing, it’s irritating to have it be the central focus of the Piper crowd’s teaching on marriage, when there is a lot more to marriage (and life) than that. Third, intended or not, it has the consequence of demeaning women, placing them below men, making them only good for cooking, cleaning, and raising children (not that those things aren’t good!). Could there be a complementarian view that doesn’t demean women? Sure! Is this it? An equally resounding “no”.

    And earlier … you and Danny agreeing that the evidence for something that goes against Reformed theology is not compelling? Hardly surprising. 🙂

    You have some good points about the clarity of those submission passages. Perhaps in theory and outside of this context I don’t disagree with you. It’s a far cry, though, from acknowledging that there is some discussion of women’s roles in the NT and signing up for CBMW’s newsletter. You don’t have to be egalitarian to think that they are not interpreting everything correctly.

    Of course, I only brought up the women’s issue to illustrate tSoG fallacy #4 … which you haven’t really addressed … ? If you want to have an all out brawl on women’s issues, then maybe you should post on your blog about it … a concise, here’s 4 reasons why Ben should believe in the Piper-approved complementarian view.

  10. Ben Says:

    Oh, I see where you’re going with the contrasting verbs. I don’t think the obey / respect distinction invalidates the tSoG #4 claim on that interpretation … though the verb is different, the statement style is the same.

  11. Ben Says:

    Oh, yeah, also I forgot about tSoG fallacy #5 … confusing “this is a good way to do it” with “this is the only way to do it”. Passages about the structure of the church, for instance, could be general admonitions to the particular churches in the particular context they were written to. But instead of reading it as we would the instructions to the Levites as regards the Temple worship (this is a picture of how worship works) we take it as the Law was taken, and apply it as law (this is the only correct way to structure a church). Does that make sense?

  12. nathanwells Says:

    Can you think of another example for #4?

  13. […] some thoughts in response to my friend’s post. This is an important question – and one that is essential to look at Biblically, because we all […]

  14. Ben Says:

    Another example for #4? Hm, good question. Let me think. I mean, obviously slavery was the big one. People used to say that description of slavery was equivalent to approval. I can’t off the top of my head think of any other areas that I know this is being applied in our context. I will think about it, and maybe I can come up with some more.

  15. Tato Says:

    Lee, “subject/submit” is in that passage: Upotassomenoi is the word to be subject.

  16. Tato Says:

    Sorry… I mean it was in verse 21… but you are right it is referenced in verse 22… literally “The wives to one’s own husband as to the Lord”.

  17. Lee Says:

    Sorry for leaving you out of the list, Tato 🙂 I don’t know if you’ve gotten far enough in Hebrew yet to comment here, but I’d welcome any insight from you (or Nathan)!

  18. […] Nathan responds to this quote from Dare to Decide: […]

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