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Lesson Eight: Hermeneutical Considerations

Women Serving God—Wednesday Evening Series
John Mark Hicks and Mark Manassee
March 24, 2003

Hermeneutical Considerations

I. Egalitarian Perspective

***This material is indebted to Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996).

A. Making decisions regarding individual texts related to women needs to be done in light of God’s larger story/meta-narrative:

“The God of Israel, the creator of the world, has acted (astoundingly) to rescue a lost and broken world through the death and resurrection of Jesus; the full scope of that rescue is not yet apparent, but God has created a community of witnesses to this news, the church. While awaiting the grand conclusion of the story, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit is called to reenact the loving obedience of Jesus Christ and thus, to serve as a sign of God’s redemptive purposes for the world.”

B. In light of this meta-narrative, three focal images or lens provide guidance for interpretation and application:

“The New Testament calls the covenant community of God’s people into participation in the cross of Christ in such a way that the death and resurrection of Jesus becomes a paradigm for their common life as harbingers of God’s new creation”

C. Interpretative Steps:

1. Reading the Texts:

2. Synthesis (“putting together”): Women in Canonical Context

a) Community: “The church is a counter-cultural community of discipleship, and this community is the primary addressee of God’s imperatives.”

b) Cross: “Jesus’ death on a cross is the paradigm for faithfulness to God
in this world.”

c) New Creation: “The church embodies the power of the resurrection in
the midst of a not-yet-redeemed world.”

3. Hermeneutics: Responding to the New Testament’s Witness Concerning Women Serving God.

a) Mode of Hermeneutical Appropriation

b) Other Lesser Authorities

1) Tradition

2) Reason

3) Experience

4. Living the Text: The Church As Community of All God’s People

II. Complementarian Perspective.

A. Theological Centers: The theological metanarrative and the theological core are detailed quite well above. But another should be added as a theological core: the theological story of creation as a reflection of divine intent.

1. The story of creation functions as an ethical and theological norm in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.

2. The creation story is especially important in the New Testament as biblical writers think about marriage, sex and gender (cf. Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:31; 1 Corinthians 11:7-9; 1 Timothy 2:13).

B. Hermeneutical Application: Moving from Text to Contemporary Application.

1. Exegesis: what does the text say, what did it mean to the original audience, and what did it call them to be in their culture?

2. Theology: why does the text call this behavior, what principles inhere in the text’s meaning, how are these principles reflected in the narrative of God’s story, and how are these principles grounded in the theological core of the metanarrative (creation, community, cross and new creation)?

3. Application: how do those principles grounded in the theological core translate into contemporary culture? What do those principles call us to be in our culture?

C. Example of Hermeneutical Process: 1 Timothy 2:9-10,

1. Exegesis: women should not wear gold, pearls or braided hair, but should dress modestly as befits a woman who serves God.

2. Theology: due to cultural associations of gold, pearls and braided hair, Paul forbids such in the assembly. Ostentatious dress was incompatible with the humility of worshipping God in community. This rejection of wealth as status and power in the community of God is part of the metanarrative as we see it through divine intent in creation, community in Israel, the servant nature of the cross and the equity of the new creation.

3. Application: what is ostentatious and symbolizes power is culturally relative, and thus the application may differ today. Though the application might change, the principles remain the same due to their rootage in the metanarrative.

D. Complementarian Application to Gender Roles.

1. Exegesis: the texts call women to a submissive relationships within marriage and church leadership (Eph. 5:22-31; Col. 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-7; 1 Cor 11:3), there were no female elders, Jesus did not choose any female apostles, Paul prohibits women from teaching (1 Tim. 2:12) and silences women in the Corinthian assembly (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

2. Theology: creation is the ground of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, 14:34, and 1 Timothy 2:12-13. The community of Israel did not have women priests, Jesus did not choose female apostles among his disciples, and new creation community does not include female elders. Why? Complementarians believe the rationale is creation rather then culture. There are cultural dimensions to the applications within the text, but there are also creation principles as well. The theological task is to discern the principles that shaped the Christian community in the first century and to understand their theological grounding. Complementarians find the principle in the idea of “headship” grounded in story of creation we have been given in Genesis 1-2. This complementarian picture must be balanced with the other texts present in the story that give women voice and leadership in the community (e.g., Deborah, Phoebe, Christian prophetesses, etc.).

3. Application: applications may still differ though the principles remain the same. The nature of teaching, the rationale of silence, etc. may have varied applications as long as the principle of headship is honored.

III. Egalitarian Questions Regarding “Headship”

A. Is creation really an interpretative key for complimentarians or is “headship” really their guiding principle?

B. Is “headship” really in creation or does it reflect the patriarchy of the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman society?

C. Is the fact that the apostles were men any more significant than the fact that they were Jewish and the fact that they were not a permanent role in the church? (The same could be said about kingship since God was displeased with the idea and it was not a permanent institution or the observation that we do not see an eldership in the church at Corinth, Roman, Thessalonica, and other cities or the comment in I Peter that we are all [men and women] a royal priesthood in the new creation.)

D. What does “headship” really mean? To have the last word? To make the final decision in a disagreement? To be the decision maker?

E. If it is responsibility and accountability what passage actually says that? Are not women also responsible and accountable in the family and church?

F. If “headship” is to be viewed in light of the cross of Jesus how can anyone claim they have a position of authority? Does the cross not relativize any claims to be head “over” another?

G. If all one’s life is to be worship (Romans 12:1-2) and if “headship” is rooted in creation, what does “headship” mean in the marketplace? Should women not have positions of responsibility and accountability if men are involved? Should men not accept or leave a job if they are accountable to a woman?

H. If a woman has been gifted by God in the proclamation of the gospel, pastoring others, and/or leadership and senses a call from God, what should they do? Are not men as well as women to benefiting from their gift?

I. How can Fanny Crosby write 100’s of gospel hymns but “headship” prevent her (were she alive!) from leading those songs in worship or preaching their message in worship?

J. Will women have to submit to male “headship” in heaven? If not, what significance does Jesus’ words “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” have for us?

IV. Complementarian Perspective on Headship

A. Headship is a guiding principle for complementarians because they see it as a principle embedded in the theological story of creation as well as in the relationship between the Father and Son within the triune community (1 Corinthians 11:3) and in the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:23ff). It is the theological story that must define headship rather than the fallen story of the world, which has unfortunately mostly defined headship in the church and family.

B. Complementarians struggle to define “headship” but three models in Scripture inform their discussion and supply the principles for application. Authority is not the problem, but the nature and use of authority that distinguishes between fallen (worldly) and divine intent.

1. The relationship of the Father and Son—the Son submitted to the Father as head and voluntarily takes that role throughout eternity (1 Cor. 15:28) though the Father loved the Son and showed him all things so that all would honor him (John 5:28ff).

2. The relationship of Christ and the Church—his sacrifice for the church was a function of servant headship to which the church responds in submissiveness and love.

3. Pauline instructions that are rooted in headship so that the community images the relationship of the triune community.

C. Complementarians have varied understandings of headship and varied applications of its significance in the contemporary world.

1. Some define headship as the locus of primary accountability and responsibility (e.g., God addressed Adam first). It would not hinder or prevent female leadership (e.g., women prophesy while they honor their head in Corinth). There are multiple dimensions to leadership within the dynamic of relationships. Giftedness is a principle that operates within the story of this dynamic rather than operating as an independent principle.

2. Some define headship as almost any kind of public leadership (e.g., women should not lead prayer or lead singing in public worship because this is a function of headship in the corporate assembly).

3. Of course, some complementarians have historically defined headship in the sense of “boss” or “overlord” but this participates more in fallen culture than it does the theological story of Scripture.


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