Why are there specific qualifications for Elders and Deacons (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1) yet most of the men and women God used to lead His People OT and in the early church didn’t meet many of these standards? My first mentor asked the question above, and I confess, it is a doozy. I think that the contradiction may be nigh near impossible to deal with if we approach it through an inductive approach. We cannot simply find all the verses in the Bible that speak to the matter, and then tally up what the result is. If we did this, we would see that the “man after God’s own heart,” King David, had multiple wives and even concubines, but the qualifications listed in 1 Tim. and Titus clearly state that leaders of the people of God should have only one wife. I want to eliminate a few options right at the front for dealing with the text. I do not want to revise the biblical text by picking and chooses some verses while eliminating others or debate the dating of books: we can call this the revisionist option. Like Kevin Vanhoozer and Bernard Childs, I think we ought to work with a full canon of Scripture rather than thinking our methods can lead us to the “truth behind the text,” as though the truth isn’t in the text of the Bible. I think that the old dispensational explanation that God works differently during different ages hits on an important truth, but I do not want to package it the way a dispensationalist would. It is too simple to considerably explain the complexity of the biblical text. Let’s look at what 1 Tim 3:2–4 states: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive . . . .” I don’t think we can just say, “Well, the church is a different organization at a different time than the theocracy of Israel and so they have different rules for different communities and times.” In what follows, I want to use Judges 4 (Deborah:female leadership) as a test case that contradicts 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 (male leadership) so as to illustrate one way to handle this. I am going to avoid what I call the “dominating other biblical texts into silence approach” often used that is undergirded with the logic that the last word on the matter is what stands for us today (1 Tim. and Titus are both near the end of the Bible). After this — and this is the main body of the discussion — I offer some philosophical answers to the problem along with observations about the entirety of the Bible. I believe I could answer the question with only this last section, but I want to give lots to think about in order to push both our understanding of the Bible and how to apply it today.
Vanhoozer’s Linguistic-Canonical Approach to the Bible
Kevin Vanhoozer’s development in Evangelical Futures, which is his own summarization of The Drama of Doctrine, offers what he terms the “canonical-linguistic approach.” I want to explain it before I use it for this issue because it is a thematic approach to the Bible, tracing certain ideas across its pages to observe where the text “points” or “directs.” The Bible acts as a kind of mentor, and we are its apprentices. It is not enough to just know what the Bible says; we need to observe the method by which the Bible addresses an issue in its various contexts. As we bring all of these observations together, we have a collection of both what the Bible says and how the Bible handles certain issues in specific contexts. The crux of Vanhoozer’s approach is that the whole canon, that is, the whole Bible, must be consulted so that we can become an “apprentice” to its wisdom, not merely parrots of verses (Evangelical Futures, 80 – 82). While it remains that using the canonical-linguistic approach requires knowing all or many of the verses dealing with a difficult biblical question about living the Christian life, about theology, or other practical day-to-day issues, it seeks to form a summarization of this content for the purpose of living rightly. We need to know what the Bible says, how it goes about saying it, and how to bring not just the “what” to bear, but the “how” as well, in our situations. In short, the Bible’s wisdom on a matter must be performed by us. Some may assume this suspect, but it is only following what we think the Apostle Matthew did in his Gospel when he said that Jesus will “be called a Nazarene.” St. Matthew introduces this as spoken by the Prophets, as though it is coming from the OT, but no text like this exists in the OT. Many scholars think that St. Matthew is summarizing the OT teaching, so that what St. Matthews says is the collective wisdom and teaching on this coming Messiah although no Prophet specifically states what Matthew says.
Judges 4 in the Light of 1 Tim. 3 & Titus 1
We all know the story of Deborah, the woman Judge and Prophetess who led Israel to victory over Sisera and Jabin (Judges 4). Barak, in my opinion, is not to be credited with the victory because he risked being disobedient to God by refusing to obey Him by going to battle unless Deborah would go with Him (4:6, 8). A Judge, it is to be remembered, was a civil and legal leader of the nation of Israel, so Deborah acts as a kind of “governor” over the diverse tribes of Israel. Further, as a Prophetess in the role of Judge, she no doubt had powerful influence over the spiritual climate of Israel, greater than many of the mega church pastors’ influence combined today. It is not a misnomer, then, to call her both a spiritual and civl leader. I’ve heard a number of persons claim that the narrative about Deborah teaches the principle that God will use a woman rather than a man when strong men cannot be found to lead. I am not sure how such an understanding is possible because the text makes no bones about Deborah’s status as a Prophetess and Judge: “Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam . . . .” (Esv). The text is not about God “raising a woman up” because Barak wouldn’t rise to the occasion or any other “strong men” for that matter. Rather, the text, in typical Hebrew narrative just presents Deborah as the Judge and Prophetess — the “Now Deborah . . .” is introduced with the Hebrew term for continuing a narrative, waw ו. There is no indication either from the Hebrew text or the English that Deborah’s role is unusual or that she is appointed because of some dire situation. Instead, what we find is a woman in power who deals decisively with the problem: “She sent and summoned Barak . . . .” Barak is not cast as the leader in this text. Deborah is clearly the one with the authority to summon him and, with her spiritual authority, she delivers the word of the Lord to Barak for how to handle this oppressive situation: “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?”” Deborah orchestrates both Barak’s involvement and how to go about the battle. Barak promptly refuses to listen unless Deborah comes along: “Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”” There is no indication from this text that Deborah is at odds with God; indeed, Deborah was so intimate with God that she knew what God had told Barak. Now, what are we to do with this glaring contradiction to 1 Tim. and Titus. At this point, I could launch into a long, although no doubt profitable, discussion of cultural norms and cultural change. I will say a bit on this shortly in the final section, but let’s apply Vanhoozer’s linguistic-canonical approach to the present tension between Judges 4 and 1 Tim. 3/Titus 1. If we inductively tallied up the texts, we would be left with a major contradiction: God says only men are to lead in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, but God shows that a woman can lead both as a spiritual and civic leader in Judges 4. If we looked at the rest of Judges, we would observe that the rest of the leaders/Judges were men. From this we would conclude that woman leadership is not contrary to God either in principle or in fact. Woman leadership, however, looking at the “method” or “models of leadership” offered in Judges, suggests that it is irregular. Judges 4 does not teach that woman can only lead when strong men are lacking; this is not what the text conveys. From this point, we need to look all across the Bible, at all models of leadership, to see what else we can conclude about leadership: I don’t have space to do this: it would be a book. We would surely find many “men only” models: kings of Israel, Priests of Israel, Jesus’ inner 12 disciples, some church leaders. Although I’ve listed Jesus’ inner 12, it is not to be missed that women were also part of Jesus’ discipleship group that traveled around with him (Mt. 27:55, Mk 15:41, Lk. 23:49, esp. Lk. 24:22, Acts 1:14). Also, in Romans, St. Paul mentions two women in his farewell remarks in chapter 16: Phoebe (v. 1) the deaconess and Junias the apostle (v. 7). There are other women we could mention as well. This suffices to “point-out” in a linguistic canonical approach that the canon of Scripture, in its fulness, is not opposed to woman leadership in principle or in fact. What I want to avoid at this point is opting for a universalizing or totalitarian use of one Scripture or set of Scriptures to silence the others. Cast in the light of the linguistic-canonical approach, 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 are eminently consistent with the majority of male-model-leadership found across the pages of Scripture. If I had more time, I would want to look at the cultural situations of the locations where Timothy and Titus were Pastors. The linguistic-canonical approach will not allow us to leave it at that because we are interested in the entirety of the biblical witness and how that “directs” us to live-out that wisdom, not in silencing the rest of the biblical witness or reinterpreting it in the image or model of 1 Tim. and Titus. Some will find this “iffy.” I would point out that there are many texts with women in prominent roles just above, and more could be added to that. I find silencing many texts in Scripture’s teaching on a matter more “iffy” than finding a way to let it all stand. Male-leadership, therefore, is the general guideline for church leadership, but woman leadership is not excluded in principle (de jure) or in fact (de facto). In 1 Tim and Titus there may have been cultural issues that had created women in that town who were domineering — more than one commentator has claimed this in Timothy’s situation. I hope all of this has gone to show that looking across the whole canon of the Bible leads to the conclusion that certain imperatives in a text or two cannot dominant the rest of the biblical witness into silence in cases where they disagree, even if it is the “last word” God spoke on a matter. The entire biblical text must direct our thinking and consequent living on a matter. Thus, 1 Tim. and Titus no doubt apply directly to those churches, but St. Paul, the same author of 1 Tim. and Titus, can also call Phoebe a deaconess of the Church of Cenchreae, and Romans is dated not long before 1 Tim. and Titus.
Philosophical Answers and Observations on the Whole Bible
Why does God deal with specific situations sometimes differently? It seems because situations always differ, and sometimes call for more specific direction than in other places. For instance, why was it enough that Abraham just “trust” God and keep the few commands God gave to him whereas the Israelites at Sinai were delivered 613 commands? Was did Noah only get a few commands? God’s commands can also be inconsistent across the whole of Scripture because God sometimes condescends to meet humanity where they are (as Jesus taught, Mt. 19:8), while other times His commands are utterly high (Deut. 6:1 – 10) and consistent with His nature. Moreover, after the fall, God is interested in refashioning man into useful vessels for God’s purposes (Jer. 18:5 – 11) according to man’s cooperation with God; echoing John Hick, God is interested in “soul-making.” Thus, some commands come sooner or later in God’s economy of guiding man back towards Christ and, through Him and in the Spirit, to heaven. This thought follows the narrative flow of Genesis 6 – 12:1 – 3 because man falls (Gen. 3), and they are heavily influenced into evil so much so that God kills all but Noah and his family. From this point, God’s task of reclaiming humanity from the Devil is ongoing, particularly and powerfully advanced in Gen. 12:1 – 3 with the call and promise to Abraham (see NT Wright’s Climax of the Covenant). God’s role in developing both the biblical narrative and Israel as a people is transformative across the pages of history. God doesn’t only deliver a rote set of laws to be woodenly followed but never advanced as Deuteronomy makes clear: Deut. 17:8 – 11. This text already assumes the the Laws God gave would not be enough to handle every situation, but gives the leaders power to direct them. Moreover, Deut. 29:1 already makes mention of the coming new “covenant,” the one “besides the covenant God man with them at Horeb.” This leads into my final point, that God’s revelation across time is a “spiral” leading to a telos, or certain end and goal. It is not a cycle. God’s directives can show greater or lesser consistency with earlier or later commands because Scripture is ever unpacking and elaborating, not just restating what has already been said. As a spiral, we expect God to set up certain administrative policies for how He governs His people that we will see again and again, but that also advance (this is actually what typology, what the Catholics call allegory, is all about). In 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, we are on part of the spiral that coincides with God’s former preference for male leadership, but this does not demand that we universalize it so that just that part of the spiral becomes the whole spiral. In fact, Scripture would caution us against such a “silencing” of other parts of the biblical text. Dr. Scalise
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