Israel as a Divine Council, Part 1: Introduction

The degree to which the Bible interacts with the mythologies of Israel’s neighbors is a fact that is all-too-often better known and understood by its critics than by its believers. Jews and Christians often find themselves confronted with claims by atheists and neo-pagans alike that the ancient Jews simply stole from the legends of the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and of course the Canaanites in creating their own holy books. Unfortunately, while these parallels are well known to scholars, an understanding of them has not filtered down to the lay level. Indeed, many believers reflexively reject seeking out and understanding these cultural similarities. After all, Sola Scriptura! Others, unfortunately, find their faith in the Bible–and therefore, in the God of the Bible–undermined or destroyed because they were never prepared to deal with such a line of attack. It is a shame and a tragedy that both the Jewish and the Christian worlds have failed to prepare their young people for such challenges–especially since, properly understood, comparative religious studies of the ancient near-east pose far more opportunities to better understand the Word than to undermine it. After all, the Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum! Just as understanding the nature of Epicurean philosophy and its impact on Greco-Roman thinking helps one to understand many of the details of Paul’s letters (such as his dissertation on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15), understanding the pagan worldview helps one to understand the arguments of the prophets against the pagan paradigm.

These legends also provide extra-Biblical support for pre-historical events such as the Flood or the Tower of Babel. We would be right to be suspicious if only the Bible contained a record of a worldwide Flood that wiped out nearly all of humanity. The fact that the Flood legend is so ubiquitous in so many cultures all around the world, with versions appearing even in Native American tales, isn’t evidence that the authors of Scripture “stole” it, but rather that the Flood was indeed a primordial event that affected all of mankind. Pagan mythology and theology serves a similar purpose. After all, even most ardent fundamentalists understand that the Bible’s claim isn’t that the gods of the pagans are non-existent, but that they are demonic entities that are not worth worshipping (Deu. 32:17, Psa. 106:7, 1Co. 10:20).

Moreover, since all of humankind shares a common ancestry, and therefore a common history, why should it surprise us that certain motifs concerning the spiritual world appear in both Israel and in its near-eastern neighbors? In fact, the Bible’s first eleven chapters are almost entirely devoted to “correcting” ancient near-eastern mythology. For example, there is a great deal of debate today on how (or if) to reconcile the creation account of Genesis with our modern scientific knowledge. Neither young-earth creationism, nor old-earth progressive creationism, however, can really claim to interpret the text according to its original historical purpose. To suggest that the ancient Hebrews would have read into Genesis 1:1 the creation of a universe over 30 billion light-years across is, of course, ludicrous. To the ancients, “the heavens” referred to that which they could see with the naked eye: Sky, clouds, the sun, moon, and stars (which included the “wandering” stars, or planets), etc. They did not, and could not, distinguish between the atmosphere and outer space, let alone interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic space.

They also had no conception of, and no concern about, our current scientific debates about the ultimate origin of a universe that was largely invisible to them and which we have only begun to perceive in the last century via our powerful (and in some cases orbital) telescopes. Nor would they have cared about the extent to which evolution played a role in the development of the earth’s life-forms, or if it did at all. Atheism and materialism were not even on the table for discussion.

What was on the table for discussion was the means by which the visible world was created and by whom. All Ancient Near-East (ANE) pagan systems personified nature into their gods. These gods, in turn, were not eternal, but arose (evolved) spontaneously from a chaotic, primordial world which they proceeded to shape and vie over.

No, not this Tiamat. (And if you recognize this picture, you watched the same Saturday morning cartoons as I did.)

No, not this Tiamat. (And if you recognize this picture, you watched the same Saturday morning cartoons as I did.)

For example, the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish tells us that Abzu and Tiamat, the personifications of fresh and salt water, mixed together and created the gods. Apsu wished to kill them, but Tiamat prevailed in keeping them alive. Ea, the chief of the gods, killed Apsu in his sleep, leading to Tiamat seeking revenge. Marduk in turn killed Tiamat in battle and divided her, using half of her corpse to form the earth and half to form the heavens.

The Egyptians and Greeks had myths of a similar sort, with the structure of the world and the very laws of nature arising from the emergence, marriages, births, wars, and deaths of the gods. The chief point of Genesis is to correct these pagan traditions of personified nature. In their place, Genesis asserts that in the beginning was one God, transcendent and separate from the visible world, and that he alone created the natural entities and forces that the pagans worshipped. God did not bring the world into being by strife, nor with the help of (or death of) other gods, but simply by the Word of his power. The deep (Heb. tehom) was not a god or a monster, but was simply the primordial ocean over which the Spirit of the Living God brooded before acting to create, and so forth. This is the plain-sense, historical interpretation.

Does this mean that Genesis has nothing to speak to today’s issues, or that it is ahistorical and simply a polemical device for countering paganism? Not at all. First of all, its polemical value is anchored on being a true, historical account by the One who created everything. And if that is the case, then we should expect that as our scientific knowledge of creation expands, we should find confirmation of God’s account. Secondly, the major difference between paganism and philosophical materialism is that paganism personifies the natural elements. (Though given how non-theists tend to personify “the Universe,” “the Cosmos,” and “Evolution” when speaking of the design in nature, there’s an even thinner line between the two than may be apparent at first glance.) The Bible’s response to paganism would therefore answer materialism as well–and such a response would have to be rooted in real, verifiable natural history in order to be effective. Moreover, if the God of the Bible is truly all-knowing and eternal (outside of the created dimension of time), we would expect that he would anticipate future attacks on his sovereignty over creation just as much as those in the past. But now consider the inverse: Just as the Bible acts to correct the errant beliefs of paganism, paganism in turn must have distorted an original knowledge of the Creator: “Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23).

"Let us build a tower to the heavens . . ."

“Let us build a tower to the heavens . . .”

Paul is not speaking of all individual men having a knowledge of the Creator from Creation, which they all then individually rejected in favor of paganism, but rather of the original rejection of the Most High by men thousands of years before at Babel.

To be continued . . .

What Does “Reforging the Menorah” Mean?

The menorah for the coming Temple

The menorah for the coming Temple

When Israel was commanded to build a Tabernacle for the Eternal Creator so that he might dwell among his people, God also gave Moses detailed descriptions of the furnishings, including the famous Menorah, which became a symbol of Israel for thousands of years. The Menorah (literally “light bearer”) was the sole illumination for the Tabernacle, and had to be built to very particular specifications:

“You shall make a menorah of pure gold. Of hammered work shall the menorah be made, even its base, its shaft, its cups, its buds, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it. There shall be six branches going out of its sides: three branches of the menorah out of its one side, and three branches of the menorah out of its other side; three cups made like almond blossoms in one branch, a bud and a flower; and three cups made like almond blossoms in the other branch, a bud and a flower, so for the six branches going out of the menorah; and in the menorah four cups made like almond blossoms, its buds and its flowers; and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, for the six branches going out of the menorah. Their buds and their branches shall be of one piece with it, all of it one beaten work of pure gold.” (Exo. 25:31-36)

The Menorah had to be completely unified from the moment of its creation, being built by hammering out a single block of gold. Its branches could not be created separately and then welded on. This symbolized the complete unity that God expected of his people, which in turn was to reflect the complete unity of the Holy One himself.

Hear, Israel: the LORD is our God; the LORD is one. (Deu. 6:4)

And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their good, and of their children after them:(Jer. 32:39)

I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; (Eze. 11:19)

In the New Covenant Scriptures, Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) called for his followers to have the same unity.

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice. They will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16)

I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. . . that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; (John 17:11, 21-22)

The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. (Acts 4:32)

For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby. (Eph. 2:14-16)

Tragically, because of the sin and rebellion in the heart of men, this unity has never been realized. Israel of course eventually split into two nations, the northern and the southern kingdoms, and by the time of the New Testament period, the people had been further scattered across the Roman world and split into numerous sects: The Pharisees (who became Orthodox Judaism), the Sadducees, the Herodians, the Galileans, the Hellenists, the Essenes, etc.

The Church has fared no better, and it was actually prophesied in the final book of the Bible that this would be the case.

I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. Having turned, I saw seven golden menorahs. And among the menorahs was one like a son of man, clothed with a robe reaching down to his feet, and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace. His voice was like the voice of many waters. He had seven stars in his right hand. Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining at its brightest. When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. (Rev. 1:12-17)

Seven cities, seven assemblies, seven lamps, no unity.

Seven cities, seven assemblies, seven lamps, no unity.

Instead of a unified body symbolized by seven lampstands unified as a single Menorah, Revelation reveals the churches to be separated from one another by a loss of love and fellowship, the rise of elitists and false prophets, spiritual deadness, and lukewarmness–all of which began with the rejection of the Jewish followers of Yeshua by the mostly-Gentile Christians. [link to Judenrein Christianity article] The result has been that the Menorah has been broken, each of the seven branches snapped off of their base and setting themselves up as their own individual lampstand.

The Menorah can no more be welded back together now than it could when it was first created. Instead, it must be melted back down by great heat and hammered back out again.

I will bring the third part into the fire,
and will refine them as silver is refined,
and will test them like gold is tested.
They will call on my name, and I will hear them.
I will say, ‘It is my people;’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zec. 13:9)

. . . that the proof of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes even though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. (1Pt. 1:7)

Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. (1Pt. 4:12)

Reforging the Menorah Ministries is dedicated to the reunification of all of God’s people, both Jew and Gentile. This reunification cannot be accomplished by purely human strength, but must be accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit:

‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD of Hosts. (Zec. 4:6)

That means that the Reforging the Menorah movement is NOT:

  • A political movement, nor do we have any political designs on any nation, though we do support Israel.
  • A cultural or legalistic movement. We are not calling for Christians to live as Jews, nor Jews as Christians. We do, however, support Christians who wish to learn about Israel’s feasts and Jewish life and thought.
  • A movement intent on abolishing important distinctions or theological controversy. We recognize the importance of good dogma and good traditions in the Body of Messiah, and we also recognize that there are fundamentally important debates within the Body–but our intent is that these debates be held in a spirit of brotherhood within the Body. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Since we believe that the first split in the Body of Messiah was actually the rejection of the Jewish followers of Yeshua by the Gentiles, our first focus is on healing that rift by education, edification, and fellowship, and most especially, by showing the full importance of the Biblical teaching that the Gentiles who have put their faith in Israel’s King have been adopted as fellow-heirs to Israel (Eph. 3:6), grafted into Israel’s family tree (Rom. 11), and peaceably annexed into God’s kingdom as God’s people and the work of God’s hands alongside Israel (Isa. 19:24-25). We believe that because of this adoption, every Christian should look upon every Jew they meet as a brother or a sister–whether or not the Jew feels the same.

While we have our own prophetic perspective (described in Rabbi Mike’s books When the Stars Fall, soon to be re-released, and the forthcoming Reforging the Menorah), this Israelology is not dependent on having any particular stance on the Millennium, the past or future fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse, or one’s belief–or lack thereof–in the Rapture.

Indeed, we believe that regardless of the specifics of one’s eschatology, that it is clear that we are living in prophetic times. But rather than chase after prophetic voyeurism, we believe that it’s past time to roll up our sleeves and be about our King’s business, to make straight the way of the Lord!

Shalom u’vrekhah (peace and blessings),
Rabbi Mike

Announcing the Creation of Reforging the Menorah Ministries

It has been so long since I actually posted that it looks like WordPress has completely changed around the interface in my absence. That’s sad.

Her fault, this time.

Okay, I could make another excuse about my kids–I do have a new baby that I’ve been playing with, after all. But I’ve not actually been idle all this time.

Well over a year ago, I posted the first part of an article entitled “The Curse of the Law.” And anyone who thought it was interesting waited. And waited. And waited. And plotted my downfall.

Much as in the case of the still-missing second volume of When the Stars Fall, the problem wasn’t that I had nothing to write–it was that every thing I thought of to write led to more questions, which led to more research, which led to more writing, which led to more questions . . . you get the idea.

Basically, the questions raised by the second half of the book of Revelation led to writing a whole new book (which is still in pieces, but about ready to do the proposal on). The parts of said book that I intended to post here led to still more articles and research.

In short, I’ve been having a lot of fun.

RtFM_seal_400 (2)So I guess this is as good a time as ever to announce the genesis of a new ministry that I’m working on that is distinct and separate from my work at Congregation Beth HaMashiach (cbhm.org). So without further ado, I’d like to announce the creation of Reforging the Menorah Ministries. We hope to bridge the gap between Christians and Jews–and for that matter, between Christians and Christians–through a ministry of teaching via podcasts, blog posts, and books. I’ll let the introduction on our website,  explain it:

Throughout the past two millennia the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth has remained divided between Jew and Gentile and has even fractured within those groups; this is sometimes due to dogma, sometimes to ethnicity, frequently to both. Such segregation and infighting damages the witness of all, and is contrary to both the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Apostolic writings of the New Testament. As implied by its name, our ministry is dedicated to mending relations between those disparate parts, or “candlesticks” as symbolized in Revelation 1:20, and forging them into a single whole: a seven-branched menorah to shine light into the darkness (see Zec. 4).

Our goal is not to enforce a particular form of worship. Indeed, we believe such legalisms are contrary to our King’s will. We strongly oppose attempts to force Gentiles to proselytize through a perversion of the circumcision ritual as described in certain of the Apostle Paul’s writings. Likewise, we condemn the application of “Confessions of Faith” that amount to outright refutations of the Jewish way of life, which continue to create a stumbling block that prevents Jews from recognizing their Kinsman-Redeemer. In our view, the Church neither replaces Israel (the Jewish people) nor is wholly separate from them. Rather, the Gentiles of the Church are adopted into Israel as fellow-heirs (Eph. 3:6), grafted into Israel’s family tree (Rom. 11:17-24), and therefore should regard every Jew as a brother or a sister. Toward this end, we work to achieve understanding and cooperation by celebrating those customs common to all, exhorting the roots of our faith, and exploring those areas of disagreement or outright contention in the hope of finding the truth in Scripture.

If you enjoy our teachings and have a congregation in either the Atlanta, GA or Tampa, FL areas, please see our Booking page for information on scheduling us to teach classes in-person.

The website is still under construction, but we’re already loading up some articles there (including some “golden oldies” from this blog). We’ve got four podcasts, a series on Hosea, in the can, but due to life issues are holding off on posting the first of them until we’re sure we can reliably upload them on a weekly basis.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting some excerpts from the Reforging the Menorah book here, both to explain what our ministry is about and (hopefully) whet some appetites.

There are a few complications on the horizon, but Hashem willing, this will be the beginning of me getting back into the game. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.

Shalom.

Book Review: The Second Coming of the Antichrist by Peter Goodgame

I’ve been meaning for a while to do a few book reviews on this blog, but work on “The Curse of the Law” series–which has actually required me to back up and write prequels to the original blog post–has joined forces with my newborn baby girl and very typically two-year-old son to keep me from spending as much time reading as I’d like. If it weren’t for my Nook and having a bit of time to kill when rocking one of my kids to sleep, I’d get almost nothing done. However, there’s been one book recently that I just couldn’t put down, which in fact had me go back for a second read and had me scribbling notes in the margins. I figure such a book deserves to be my first ever review on this blog.

Peter Goodgame’s The Second Coming of the Antichrist (SCA, for short) is the sort of book which would be easy to dismiss at first glance as just so much apocalyptic pablum–at least for those who aren’t immediately drawn to the genre. However, while the book does indeed speculate heavily on the origins of the Antichrist, its take is unique to itself, and in the process of presenting his case, Goodgame has created a detailed study of history and mythology that even those with no interest in eschatology will find fascinating. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have it’s flaws, but I think the flaws are eclipsed by its vision.

The vast majority of SCA is a study on pre-history and comparative mythology, focused on a very Biblical mystery: Who exactly was Nimrod, the son of Cush? Though only appearing in Genesis 10 and a couple of relatively obscure prophetic references, the figure of Nimrod has been the subject of speculation by both Christian expositors and Jewish rabbis for millennia. The general consensus has been that he was the first world dictator, and instrumental in building the Tower of Babel (despite the fact that he isn’t mentioned in Genesis 11 at all). Goodgame carefully compares the ancient histories of Egypt and Mesopotamia together and sets forth a very good case that Nimrod was known to the Egyptians as Narmer and later as the god Osirus, to the Assyrians as Asshur, the founder of their culture, and to the Sumerians as Enmerkar. He further shows how the ancient mythologies of these peoples were essentially political and religious propaganda covering the true events that the Bible relates the truth of only in brief.

Central to Goodgame’s model of the Antichrist is the very Biblical belief that he will be a dark reflection or copy of the true Messiah, a point that Peter drives home throughout his book. He believes that the false messiah will copy the True not only in having some manner of “resurrection,” but also in having two “comings” separated by thousands of years.

Many will be critical of that final claim, arguing that Satan could have no power to truly resurrect a man. They may be right. They should read Goodgame’s book anyway. Even if one rejects his thesis about the ultimate nature of the Antichrist, the historical work he has done makes it a must-have for the shelf of any serious Bible student.

It should be noted that Goodgame has his own model of the timeline of the End Times that is pretrib in nature, but parts with classical pretrib on several key points. He develops this model in his other book Red Moon Rising to a far greater extent. I myself have some critiques of what I’ll call RMR pretribulationism, and I had the chance to query him on some of those points on the Iron Show a while back. While I am critical of some aspects of this model, I like the fact that Goodgame raises some very good points that highlight some areas of the prewrath model that I am not completely satisfied yet. I mention this because in SCA, he briefly explains his model and shows how his views here are consistent with it, but without developing a dependency between the two that would make SCA itself unpalatable for either classical pretribbers, or prewrathers like myself. My only objection is that instead of placing his model in a chapter in the middle of SCA, it would have been better placed as an appendixso that those reading the book could go back and refer to it instead of having to wait until the middle of the book to find out what Goodgame believes in that regard.

I said before that SCA has its flaws, and it does. Goodgame makes a few errors in translating or connecting certain ancient Semitic and Hebrew terms. These are, fortunately, always tangential to his main point, but they are there. He also depends a great deal on the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Tanakh (OT), which is to my mind risky. The LXX translators were good scholars, but the quality of their translation varies greatly from book-to-book (the introductory notes in the New English Translation of the Septuagint are very helpful in this regard). The also did their translation work in the “silent years” between Malachi and John the Immerser, when there was no prophet in Israel (see 1Macc. 4:46, 9:27, 14:41, cf. Amos 8:11), which means that the LXX is no more inspired than the King James Version. While I often refer to the LXX myself, I am suspicious of instances where it departs seriously from the Hebrew text, such as in ascribing longer lifespans to many of the men in the genealogies in Genesis. This results in problems such as having Methuselah surviving the Flood.

Goodgame is less critical of the LXX than I would be, and uses it to definitively place Nimrod at the time period of c. 3200 BCE. The biggest problem I can see with this is that the same archaeological techniques that allow us to date the Middle-eastern ruins also indicate that man had spread at least as far as China by the same time period, and there is a good bit of evidence that puts men in the Americas long before that. I agree that dating such ancient and pre-historical events is tricky at best, with a large margin for error, but there are some potential snarls in the timeline as Goodgame presented it which might bring one to conclude that

  1. Mankind had indeed spread out from Mesopotamia after the Flood, and the Nimrod/Tower story concerns the building of a one-world empire in the Middle-east that was nipped in the bud before the cancer could spread.
  2. The Nimrod narrative comes from a period long before Enmerkar/Narmor, and this individual was trying to replicate an event the memory of which is all but lost to the fog of history now.
  3. Secular historical dating is wrong about events anywhere except in the Middle-east.

These are of course not problems unique to SCA. They plague all attempts to firmly reconcile the Biblical accounts with secular historical dating. My own belief is that the Flood and the Tower took place much earlier than Goodgame puts it, and that the genealogies of Genesis are not meant to give an unbroken chronology. At the same time, Goodgame’s dating for the life of Narmer (possibly the Biblical Nimrod) is substantiated by secular historical work, so his arguments have quite a bit of merit, and my quibbles here should not be taken as an attack on his position, just a dissatisfaction that we have enough of the pieces to put the puzzle together yet.

Finally, I do think that Goodgame’s view of the relationship between our current social-political context and the End Times–that is, that he sees little relationship between the Antichrist and any current political entity, though he does note the obsession the Freemasons and related groups have with Osirus–is a bit naive. I realize why he has a desire to avoid tying the Antichrist to any current national groups or movements, and applaud his concern that, for example, Muslims not be singled out as an enemy to be destroyed. As he aptly puts it, “The problem comes in when Christians believe that they must react to every new scheme of the devil by being worried or offended and by responding in fear or by force” (pp. 4f). Exactly! He and I have very different views as to what the final religion of the Beast will look like, but we agree on how we must approach those caught up in falsehood. We must regard them as victims to love and rescue, not as enemies to cut down on the field of battle! Nevertheless, we do have very different views on the current players on the field.

I sent Peter a multi-page commentary on his work that I won’t share here now, but which both of us hope will be the basis for a second podcast interview on the subject. Instead, I will end with this observation: Goodgame has a wonderful writing style that somehow combines a genuine love and humility with incisive logic. I would that more of us in this field focuses on presenting positive cases for our own views instead of attacking those who disagree with us. I also admire that he was willing to put the book down for several years when he realized that he had neglected his relationship with the Lord.

In short, Peter Goodgame is a true Christian. Though he and I would take his work in different directions in some cases, reading his book has had a profound impact on my own comparative studies. I hope that you will give it the opportunity to do the same for yours.

Can Women Minister? – 1 Timothy 2:11-16

Adam and Eve by Rembrandt

Adam and Eve by Rembrandt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (ESV)

In the previous section, I deliberately left one possible argument unaddressed: “But what about when Paul says, ‘If there is anything they [women] desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home’? How does that tie in with your argument about women being permitted to prophesy?” I did so both because the major commentators I consulted all wrestle with the prophecy issue, which makes it the stronger argument, but also because I wanted to tie in the subject of women learning and teaching with the above passage from 1 Timothy 2:11-16.

Verse 11 directly contradicts the notion that women expected women to only learn from their own husbands at home–as indeed does both his own example and that of the Lord Yeshua. Yeshua’s band included a number of women who actually financed the mission (Luke 8:1-3), and he personally taught Mary, who sat at his feet as any rabbinic disciple would (10:39, 42). He also taught a certain Samaritan woman while waiting by a well (John 4), breaking two conventions of Jewish society at the same time. Paul in turn taught a group of Jewish women who gathered near a river in Phillipi, noting that one Lydia was especially attentive and led her whole household in immersing into the name of Yeshua (Acts 16:13-15).

In none of these cases did either Yeshua or Paul refuse to teach the women personally. This again proves that Paul must have been quoting someone else’s position in 1 Corinthians 14 rather than presenting his own.

But what does Paul mean here when he says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness”? Well, the word “quietly,” hesychia (used also in v.12), doesn’t mean “utter silence,” but simply the quietness that goes with a willingness to listen instead of arguing, or to live in peace instead of meddling in the affairs of others, and is used of men as well as women (cf. Acts 22:2, 2Th. 3:12).

But what about the word “subjection”? We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Verse 12 is where the trouble lies: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Taken together with 1 Corinthians 14, this is often given as proof against women having any public role in the Church. And yet, the same problems with that interpretation of the Corinthians passage plague this one: There is a clear precedent for prophetesses in the Bible, including at least one who served as judge and ruler over Israel; and Paul had indicated that women may prophesy if dressed modestly, which by the necessity of the role of a prophet ascribes to the woman a certain authority given by the Holy One himself!

The popular interpretation (which I won’t bother to source, since it’s nearly universal) is that this passage limits a woman’s proper role to teaching (and prophesying to) other women, as well as children. However, it seems odd that Paul would not have said so in Corinthians when explaining that women can prophesy with a head covering–it would have saved a lot of confusion in his previous letter. And again, such an interpretation flies in the face of the Biblical precedents.

There is are some additional problems, which crop up in the translations. First, the word translated “exercise authority” is not the common word exousia, but a far more rare word, authenteo. In fact, this word is so rare that this is the only place it appears in the canonical Scriptures. Thayer’s indicates that in the rare cases where it is used in Greek literature, it means “one who does a thing himself, the author . . . one who acts on his own authority” as “an absolute master.” That’s quite a different thing from “exercising [properly held] authority.”

The second translation issue comes out of the fact that in Greek (as well as Hebrew), there is no special word for either “husband” or “wife.” Instead, the terms “man” (aner) and “woman” (gyne) are used, with only the context indicating whether the man and woman are married or not. So let’s look at the context of v.12.

Verses 13-16 use Adam and Eve as the prototypical example to support v.12–but Adam and Eve weren’t just a man and a woman, but the first married couple. Paul then goes on in 3:2 to use the same Greek words to indicate a husband and wife. Indeed, the whole of chapter 3 focuses on what the family life of a deacon should look like.

So let’s look again at the passage, fixing the translation issues:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a wife to teach or to act on her own authority over a husband; rather, she is to remain quiet [peaceful]. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

In the early Ekklesia, it was not uncommon for a wife to come to faith in Yeshua before her husband (1Co. 7:13f). It may well be that the only point of this passage is that a woman who came to faith first, or who was otherwise more gifted in the Word than her husband, should not be put in a position of being a teacher to or acting on her own authority apart from him, so as to not disrupt the proper chain of authority in their household (Eph. 5:23).

However, as Glenn Miller explains (http://christianthinktank.com/fem09.html), there were also cultural issues that necessitated Paul’s instruction to Timothy which also explain why he decided to refer back to Adam and Eve for his prooftext:

Ephesus was legended to have been founded by the Amazons in the 12-13 centuries BC (ISBE, s.v. “Ephesus”), and maintained one of the strongest goddess worship centers in history (WS:ISNW:47-54). This was worship of the Great Mother or maternal principle, who allegedly gave birth to both humans and the gods. . .

“From the earliest times in Anatolia, female religious officials known as ‘old women’ kept alive the ancient myths.” (WS:ISNW:64). . . “Ancient writers attest that distorted stories, including perversions of the Adam and Eve saga, were already circulating in the first century of the common era. Recent scholarship suggests that Gnostic-like myths opposed to traditional biblical values may have been afloat in Alexandria as early as the second or first century before Christ. Philo, who died in CE 45, utilizes the very theme which was to draw rebuttal by Paul; namely, mythologizing Eve as the one who brings knowledge and meaningful life to Adam” (WS:ISNW:65). . .

The success of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus would no doubt have included some of the priestesses of Artemis (cf. the story of the burning of incantation scrolls by cult practitioners in Acts 19.19). Mickelsen (cited in WS: WIC: 126) shows how these might be in view in a number of the textual situations:

In Ephesus with its huge temple to the goddess Artemis were hundreds of sacred priestesses who probably also served as sacred prostitutes. There were also hundreds of hetaerae, the most educated of Greek women who were the regular companions and often the extramarital sexual partners of upper-class Greek men. Possibly some of these women had been converted and were wearing their suggestive and expensive clothing to church. Since hetaerae were often respected teachers of men in Greece (many are named in Greek literature), they would be more likely to become teachers after they became part of the church.

Paul, of course, had lectured in a Greek secular school for two years there (Acts 19.9), and if the pattern was anything like that in Athens (Acts 17.34), educated women were probably there and were converted under his teaching.

Miller then provides the punch-line which truly changes our understanding of the meaning of the whole passage:

The lexical work of Kroeger (WS:WAB:225-244) and Kroeger/Kroeger (WS: ISNW:87-104), although complex, documents one important strand of meaning as being “to proclaim as the originator or source of something” (op.cit.). Liefeld summarizes Kroeger in WS:WAB:246: “If Kroeger’s understanding of authenteo is correct, the most straightforward translation of the verse would be, ‘I do not permit a women [sic] to teach or to declare herself the originator of man.'”

WS:ISNW:103 states it thus: “If we were to read 1 Timothy 2:12 as ‘I do not allow a women [sic] to teach nor to proclaim herself author of man,’ we can understand the content of the forbidden teaching as being the notion that woman was somehow responsible for the creation of man.”

And elsewhere: “I do not permit woman to teach nor to represent herself as originator of man but she is to be in [peaceful] conformity [ with the Scriptures, as a respectful student]. For Adam was first formed, then Eve…”

Ergo, the correct meaning of the passage is not that no woman can have a properly invested authority over any man, but either a) that wives may not be in a position of authority over their own husbands, or b) that the “reverse Bible stories” common in the goddess-centered city of Ephesus must be put to an end.

Shalom

Can Women Minister? – 1 Corinthians 14:33-38

בטי מולר- דבורה הנביאה

Deborah, Prophetess and Judge (Photo credit: zeevveez)

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (ESV)

Is it really Paul’s intent that women should never speak in open assembly? Even those who believe that Paul restricts women’s roles in church or synagogue rarely take the position today that women should not speak out at all. For example, the ESV Study Bible says, “[I]t is difficult to see this as an absolute prohibition (cf. Acts 2:17; 21:8-9). Paul is likely forbidding women to speak up and judge prophecies (this is the activity in the immediate context; cf. 1Co. 14:29), since such activity would subvert male leadership.”

However, in the past, such an interpretation was the norm, even though it led to a contradiction in the text itself. Matthew Henry (not my favorite commentator, but a popular one nevertheless) manages, in the course of trying to defend the seemingly plain meaning that women were to keep utterly silent, to actually highlight the problem with such a reading:

There is indeed an intimation (1Co. 11:5) as if the women sometimes did pray and prophesy in their assemblies, which the apostle, in that passage, does not simply condemn, but the manner of performance, that is, praying or prophesying with the head uncovered, which, in that age and country, was throwing off the distinction of sexes, and setting themselves on a level with the men. But here he seems to forbid all public performances of theirs. They are not permitted to speak (1Co. 14:34) in the church, neither in praying nor prophesying. The connection seems plainly to include the latter, in the limited sense in which it is taken in this chapter, namely, for preaching, or interpreting scripture by inspiration. And, indeed, for a woman to prophesy in this sense were to teach, which does not so well befit her state of subjection. A teacher of others has in that respect a superiority over them, which is not allowed the woman over the man, nor must she therefore be allowed to teach in a congregation: I suffer them not to teach. But praying, and uttering hymns inspired, were not teaching.

Likewise, John Gill writes, “This is a restriction of, and an exception to one of the above rules, that all might prophesy; in which he would be understood of men only, and not of women . . . in the church of God, they might not speak with tongues, nor prophesy, or preach, or teach the word.” His commentary on 11:5, as a result, denies the plain meaning of Paul’s writing there:

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth,…. Not that a woman was allowed to pray publicly in the congregation, and much less to preach or explain the word, for these things were not permitted them: see 1Co. 14:34, but it designs any woman that joins in public worship with the minister in prayer, and attends on the hearing of the word preached, or sings the praises of God with the congregation, as we have seen, the word prophesying signifies . . .”

Gill’s argument is that prophesying refers to anyone who “attends public worship, that joins in prayer with the minister, and hears the word preached by him, which is meant by prophesying; for not foretelling future events is here meant, but explaining the word of God, the prophecies of the Old Testament, or any part of Scripture, unless singing of psalms should rather be designed, since that is sometimes expressed by prophesying . . .” but that “explaining the word of God” is specifically withheld from women.

John Calvin tries to explain 1 Corinthians 11:5 similarly:

It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in 1Co. 14:34.

So, basically Paul decided to throw in a couple of completely extraneous words that would give his audience a false impression . . . for giggles, I guess.

You can see the conundrum that results from forbidding women to teach given that Paul had only just given rules allowing them to prophesy. A simple rule of Jewish hermeneutics–one that Paul would have been raised and steeped in, and indeed bases many of his teachings on–is that no word of the Scriptures is redundant or unnecessary. Paul would not have said that women could prophesy with their head covered if he wished to convey that women could not speak out at all. Nor can we argue that somehow one can separate the public prophesying of men from some kind of private prophesying (singing of psalms, whatever) of women. By their very nature, a prophet has to speak the words of the living God, and by virtue of speaking those words, carries an appointed authority.

There is a second fundamental problem with the idea that this passage forbids women to speak publicly: There is no passage at all in the Torah that forbids women to do so.

Try as they might, no commentator has been able to produce such a command. The ESV Study Bible notes say with a tone of uncertainty, “Paul is probably thinking of the woman’s creation ‘from’ and ‘for’ the man (see 11:8-9; Gen. 2:20-24).” Gill claims the reason can be found “In Gen. 3:16, ‘thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’,” an opinion shared by Adam Clarke. Yet this punishment cannot be taken to be a command, but is rather a statement by the Holy One of the natural result of the woman’s newborn sin-nature. After all, it is part of the man’s curse that “thorns and thistles it [the ground] shall grow for you” (Gen. 3:18), but that doesn’t mean that we are commanded to go out and plant thorns and thistles any more than we are commanded to sweat before we eat bread (v. 19)!

Matthew Henry does not even attempt to find such a command in the Torah. Neither does John Calvin:

What connection has the object that he has in view with the subjection under which the law places women? “For what is there,” some one will say, “to hinder their being in subjection, and yet at the same time teaching?” I answer, that the office of teaching is a superiority in the Church, and is, consequently, inconsistent with subjection. For how unseemly a thing it were, that one who is under subjection to one of the members, should preside over the entire body!

Yet for all of his strong verbiage and acknowledged knowledge of the Word, Calvin produces not a single line of the Law commanding the subjection of women.

“Who told that woman she could speak to men?”
“God.”
“. . . Oh.”

So can a woman be a prophet? Clearly so; there are indeed many examples of women prophets in the Law and Prophets, such as the Matriarchs (for example, Genesis 25:23), Moses and Aaron’s sister Miriam (Exo. 15:20, cf. ch. 14), Deborah (Jdg. 4-5), Hulda (2Ki. 22:14), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), and Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3). In the New Testament we also have Anna, who prophesied over the infant Messiah and spoke publicly about him to all who would hear (Luke 2:36-38).

The case of Deborah is particularly interesting because she was not only a prophetess, but also a judge–a ruler–over Israel, “and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Jdg. 4:5). We also have an extensive prophecy by her in Judges chapter 5. Clearly, the Holy One gave her his approval and authority to rule over Israel, and to do so she spoke openly and publicly. How then can we claim that a woman cannot publicly prophesy? And if a woman can have a gift of prophecy, this is clearly a greater and more authoritative gift than teaching: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (1Co. 12:28).

One could certainly suppose that by “law” Paul is referring to Jewish Law, which certainly did (and among the more Orthodox, still does) have injunctions against women teaching, as Adam Clarke points out:

This was a Jewish ordinance; women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies, or even to ask questions. The rabbins taught that “a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff.” And the sayings of Rabbi Eliezer, as delivered, Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9, fol. 204, are both worthy of remark and of execration; they are these: ישרפו דברי תורה ואל ימסרו לנשים  yisrephu dibrey torah veal yimsaru lenashim, “Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women.” This was their condition till the time of the Gospel, when, according to the prediction of Joel, the Spirit of God was to be poured out on the women as well as the men, that they might prophesy, i.e. teach. (To 1Co. 14:34)

Acknowledging that women may prophesy (as Clarke rightly points out Joel 2:28-29 specifically predicts), and that to prophesy must necessarily involve teaching, Clarke takes a more reasonable interpretation of Paul’s intent than most: “It was permitted to any man to ask questions, to object, altercate, attempt to refute, etc., in the synagogue; but this liberty was not allowed to any woman.”

While this is closer to the mark, Clarke misses two important points: First and most obviously, it was not Paul’s habit to command universal obedience to Jewish law or custom in the Ekklesia–just the opposite, in fact! Secondly, while he is probably correct that the objection stemmed from wishing to avoid an impropriety that would unnecessarily offend the Jews of the synagogue (the requirement that a woman cover her head with a veil in 11:5 being from a similar concern), what we see described in 1 Corinthians–speaking in tongues, freely prophesying, healings, a fellowship meal, etc.–could not possibly be part of the mainline synagogue service, and would be seen as offensive to non-believing Jews in any case. (“Goyim prophesying? Surely you jest!”)

Finally, Paul’s rhetorical question, “Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” makes no sense if he thought women should not be allowed to teach. It’s a non-sequitor to go from the question, “Can a woman prophesy, which requires teaching in public?” to an answer, “Why? Are you saying that only women can receive the word of God?”

So how then should we understand this passage? Is Paul simply dealing with a temporary situation in which the women were being unusually disruptive, as some claim? But if so, why wouldn’t he be more clear?

The solution lies in recognizing a rhetorical device Paul would use from time to time: First quoting an adversarial position, and then refuting it. To pick just a couple of examples:

Earlier in the same letter (6:12), Paul writes, “‘All things are lawful for me,’” but then refutes the notion that therefore sin is permitted by responding, “but not all things are helpful.” And again, he quotes and responds, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (He repeats this formula in 10:23.)

Likewise, in Romans 3:8 Paul writes, “And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.” He responds to the charge in 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

So then, let us take each of these factors into consideration when interpreting this passage:

  1. There is absolutely no commandment in the Torah–or anywhere else–that a woman must be silent in public assembly.

  2. There are several Biblical examples of prophetesses, some of whom undeniably prophesied publicly and at least one of whom actually served as a judge over Israel.

  3. Paul himself had stated that a woman who prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, which carries the implicit ruling that women may prophesy if they do so in an honorable fashion.

  4. Paul’s rebuke, “Did the word of God come to you only?” is a non-sequitur to the question, “Can a woman prophesy openly?” since there is no indication that anyone asked if only women can prophesy.

  5. Paul sometimes quotes a position only to turn around and refute it.

And finally, there is one final factor to consider: There are no such things as quotation marks in ancient Greek or Hebrew. Therefore, the translator must supply them based on the context of the passage in question.

And with that, let us requote the passage as it appears in the ESV, supplying only a set of quotation marks, adding a couple of interpolations for clarity, and correcting one translation in the ESV (the word “Or” in v. 36), and see if it fits:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

[Some say,] “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

[Paul responds:] What? Was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you [i.e., that a woman may prophesy with a modest head-covering] are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

Ergo, Paul is not teaching that women may not pray or prophesy, both of which require speaking in open assembly, but is answering those who ignore the clear precedent of Scripture in demanding that women have no public role in the Ekklesia in order to follow the common practice in the synagogues of the time.

Shalom

Can Women Minister? – Introduction

Day 260: Don't Censor Me

(Photo credit: amanky)

Recently, Derek Gilbert brought a controversy to his PID Radio forum on Facebook that has been raised several times: What is the proper role of women in the Ekklesia? He linked to an article by Tony Jones called, “It’s Time For a Schism Regarding Women in the Church,” in which Jones makes the following assertion:

The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.

That means:

  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.

  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.

  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.

  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.

That is, we who believe in the full equality of women need to break fellowship with those who do not.

Well, given that I’ve had my own “schism” with churches that teach that Jews need to assimilate into the predominant Christian culture, I can understand feeling the need to take drastic steps to call attention to an issue one feels strongly about. However, the next two sentences by Jones are patently ridiculous: “The time for dialogue and debate has passed. The Spirit has spoken, and we have listened. It’s time to move forward with full force.”

Really? Who is the prophet whose calling we all recognize that the Spirit has spoken through? It seems to me that the only universally accepted prophets are in the Bible, and there is still a legitimate debate on how we should interpret and apply them in this regard. Jones claims, “The full equality of women and men, however, is an issue that has long since been settled.”  In secularized Western culture, perhaps–but that’s the same culture that believes that refusing any and all sexual restraint (under the aphorisms of “Be true to yourself” and “Follow your heart”) is more noble than dedicating one’s whole spirit, mind, body, and sexuality to the Creator who actually knows your heart. Moreover, the vast majority of cultures around the world do not take the equality of men and women to be a given, so the only way one can call this a settled issue is by either appeal to a myopia of Western libertarian morality or by appeal to a wide-ranging agreement among conservative Christians (i.e., those who take the Bible seriously) that women have the same rights and responsibilities in ministry as men according to the Bible. Since Jones does not (and can not, because it doesn’t exist) appeal to the latter, I have to assume that he’s appealing to the former. That’s rather chauvinistic in its own way.

With that being said, I actually mostly agree with Jones’ premise. I believe that the Bible does allow for women to have the full range of ministerial roles available up to and including the roles of prophet and apostle (obviously not meaning one of the Twelve). However, I also believe it to be the clear teaching of Scripture that the husband is the head of the household, and therefore a woman may not exercise a ministerial, teaching, or prophetic role in such a way as to dominate, disobey, or even shame her husband. God has instituted the family in such a way so as to give us poor men a fighting chance.

I have no idea if I mean that last sentence in a tongue-in-cheek way or not. Anyway, before I get in too much trouble here . . .

In many cases, we acknowledge that there are commandments in the Bible which seem horribly oppressive to us, but when understood in light of the times they were written in, make perfect sense and demonstrate incredible compassion. For example, there are large sections of the Torah devoted to slavery. Because of the racist overtones that word has taken on in the United States, we instinctively recoil at the thought of owning another human being. And yet, in the ancient world, slavery was simply another rung on a complex social ladder–the bottom rung for the menial slave in the field or mine, but many slaves were important members in their masters’ households, with wealth and prestige that set them above poor if independent farmers. For example, Eliezer was Abraham’s slave, yet he stood to inherit all of his master’s wealth (Gen. 15:2). Since slavery was simply a universal societal norm, and in many cases offered a better alternative to starving to death, the Bible did not forbid it outright, but rather regulated it while transforming the manner in which one man looks at another. There is a reason that the Abolitionist movement in the United States was comprised largely of sincere Christians.

In the same way, the Bible was written in a rather sexist time and culture, but no more endorses such sexism than it does the concept of slavery. Rather, in numerous ways–both subtle and overt–it lifts up women and shows them to have enormous value . . . not as property, but as people. For example, in most cultures, the father of a bride must pay a dowry. In the Jewish culture, inspired by the Biblical stories of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, and so forth, the prospective husband must pay a bride-price to his wife’s family. He is not “buying” her in the sense of buying a slave, but must demonstrate the extent to which he values her before her father will consent to the marriage. In the event that he should later divorce his wife, he must give her a written document called a get which serves to protect her from a charge of adultery should she remarry (Deu. 24:1), and she retains the bride-price to live on. There were also protections for women in the event of false accusations of adultery, such as the Sotah (“Bitter Water”) ceremony of Numbers chapter 5.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of passages in the New Testament that have long been taken as excluding women from major ministerial roles, usually restricting them to ministering to other women. Those in the Christian and Messianic communities who understand them in this way–many of them women themselves!–are not hostile to women, nor deserving of scorn. They are simply taking the Bible seriously and drawing a line in a world that hates having any lines drawn at all!

However, let’s take a look at those passages and see if they really are as strenuously against women in ministry as they seem at first glance.

Shalom!