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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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I have attended and worked with enormous churches, and also with very small ones. I have worked with churches that delivered impressively polished, theater-worthy presentations, where event timing was measured in the seconds, all of it driven by headset-adorned technicians working feverishly behind the scenes to keep the flow of the service as smooth and fluid as it can be. I have also worked with churches where we were not entirely certain what was going to happen from one moment to the next. Whatever happened happened, and we just rode the wave. I have worshiped with groups that met in gorgeous, multi-million-dollar facilities, complete with beverage restrictions in the worship center/auditorium, and I have worshiped with believers who met in apartment living rooms, with overflow seating on the floor.

What the body of Christ needs to understand and to become convinced of is that none of that matters!

Cultural Relevance

There is a growing obsession in today's church with what might be referred to as "cultural relevance." Somehow, somewhere, someone has convinced hundreds of thousands, if not millions of contemporary believers that we cannot be effective at reaching our communities with the message of Jesus unless we become culturally relevant. It is outside the realm of possibility for that line of thinking to be more misguided.

Do not misunderstand me to be saying that cultural relevance is wrong. I am not saying that. Indeed, I would argue that cultural relevance (properly defined) is a non-issue. The gospel of Jesus Christ is culturally relevant, and we are incapable of making it non-relevant. To say that the gospel of Jesus is not culturally relevant is to assert that contemporary culture does not need Jesus. Thus, to them, he is irrelevant. Such an argument is asinine.

My disagreement with striving after cultural relevance is not with the cultural relevance of the gospel, but rather with the prevalent mentality in evangelicalism that says the church must adopt the marketing methodologies of the world in order to reach the world with the message of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

Audience Assessment

Neither am I saying that we should avoid doing assessments of our audience in order to capture the attention of our hearers. As I write this, I am actively preparing a workshop for Christian authors and bloggers in which I will walk them through how to identify and connect with their ideal target reader. I do believe in understanding the demographic and psychographic makeup of our audiences.

The apostle Paul stated quite powerfully that he became a slave to all to win as many as possible. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) He became "like" a Jew, and "like" one under the Law, and "like" one not having the Law in order to appropriately influence each segment of society. However, nowhere in that passage did Paul say that he altered his message. He altered himself! The change was always with him, his person.

It was to this same church that Paul said, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 4:3) He did not suggest altering the message, softening it, or removing some of the more difficult aspects of it to "unveil" the message. To emphasize that truth, let's look at what Paul said that led up to his statement:

We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. - 2 Corinthians 4:2b, ESV

Boom!

We do not shamefully tamper with the word of God just to make it palatable to those outside the body of Christ. Brothers and sisters, understand that the world is hostile to the gospel. The only way to make the world not hostile to the gospel is to make it something other than the gospel. I choose, rather, to stand for truth rather than posture for the approval of a world that stands opposed to everything that defines me.

Pining for Approval

Why do we even want to be liked by and approved by the world? James, the brother of Jesus said, "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4, ESV) "Adulterous" is a strong word, powerfully describing how we look to God when we breathlessly chase after the emptiness of what society esteems.

Jesus himself said...

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. - John 15:19, ESV

This same Jesus said, "Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man." (Luke 6:22, ESV)

We don't want to become like the world. We want the world to become like Jesus. It is that very tension that I have heard described as "the struggle between holiness and Hollywood." The fact that so many Christ-followers are enamored with the entertainment that the world provides is fairly disquieting. Our environment bludgeons us with endless filth to leave us worn and weakened, but the Bible calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:2, NASB

It strikes me as absurd that we should alter who we are as followers after Christ, and how we worship when we come together as a body of believers, just to make our worship of God an easy swallow for someone who does not even love Jesus, fall at his feet, or acknowledge him as Lord and King. We need to be far less concerned with what the world thinks of us, of our worship assemblies, of our church family, and far more concerned with God's truth and God's glory.

Lifting Jesus Higher

Our ministry is not about us. It is about God. If we cause it to be about us, then we need to re-evaluate why we are doing what we are doing, because such a ministry is not of God. Ministering in any way that draws attention to us, to our church family, to our music, to our videos ... anything other than God, robs God of the glory that is rightfully his. Rather, we should say with Jesus' cousin, John, "He [Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease." (John 3:30)

So, if becoming like the world in our method and our message is not the answer, how do we get people introduced to Jesus? Jesus himself answered that question before we even asked it.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. - John 12:32, ESV

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; - John 3:14, NASB

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me." - John 8:28, ESV

Instead of investing our efforts in discerning ways to become sapid to a world that hates us, immersing ourselves in the latest George Barna research nuggets, we should apply ourselves to lifting Jesus high above all else, and in so doing, Jesus will draw all men to himself.

Next week, we will dig more deeply into what it means to lift Jesus high, and what impact that will have on us personally, and as a body of believers.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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Comments

06/21/2018
Julie  Julie

"Our ministry is not about us. It is about God." That is so spot on, Damon. I think wanting to be entertained at church is a side effect of society's desire to be distracted from anything of depth. If it's worth contemplating (and God is), it's worth the time and effort devoted to it. Sure, meaningful participation in the community of the church should be supported by uplifting music, scripture, homilies - but should be done in a way to inspire in us a deeper desire and love of God. You get out of it what you bring through the door with you, and what you leave on the altar before Him in your humility when you are there. Bright and shiny things can cause you to take your eyes off of that altar, for sure. (I actually prefer to keep my eyes closed during much of the mass just to really allow myself to concentrate on the readings and soak them in, rather than be distracted by anything else.) Thanks for sharing this. Great post - looking forward to part 2.

06/22/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

This was a difficult piece to write, and part two is no easier. There are two seemingly distinct arguments to make, but the truth is they are inextricably joined. We want to spread the gospel of Jesus, because we know people need it. But somehow, the church has become convinced that the gospel message is too harsh, too demanding. People will not accept it. And so, as contemporary society is wont to do, we "lower the standards." We call for a less-than-all commitment, and assure society that God will be okay with that.

The other part to this is what you mentioned above, that contemporary society has a short and shallow attention span, so we believe we must grab their attention with flashy presentations, amazing lighting, mind-blowing oral presentations, and precision musical presentations. Some churches go so far as to hire professional musicians for precisely that reason.

What I am getting at, is that ultimately all of that is misguided. None of that is wrong in and of itself. But it is all driven by a misguided premise, and that premise is that presenting the raw, unadulterated cross of Jesus, and the full, die-to-yourself call of discipleship will be completely ineffective. I completely disagree. Jesus says otherwise, and my own experience has shown me otherwise. When we present Jesus and his message exactly as it comes to us in scripture, people quickly learn that it is what they are starving for, and they beg for more.

06/22/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

Another aspect to this is that by filling our message with all of the human theatrics, polish, effort, technology, ingenuity (note, ALL of that comes from us) we are actually getting in God's way. By investing in our cleverness and creativity, and by RELYING on that, calling on it as a "necessary" component to an effective outreach, we have blocked God's path, saying, essentially, "It's okay, God. I've got this."

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I have been somewhat taken aback by the volume of material posted over the last four or five months regarding oppression of women in the body of Christ. To my shame, I did not recognize this was as widespread an issue as it seems to be. The pervasiveness of the issue is clearly evidenced by the amount of "airtime" the issue is getting recently in social media, and Christian news sources.

As an expert in my own mind, I asked myself, "Gee, Damon, what are your thoughts on this issue?" For this blog post, I have decided to limit my response to an analysis of one specific passage in the Pauline canon of scripture - 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38.

The Question

The question we will be attempting to answer is whether or not the apostle Paul told the Corinthian women to remain silent while in church. I'll reveal the punch line here and tell you I believe quite the opposite is true, and if you stay with me for the entirety of this rather long blog posting, I hope to convince you of that by the time we reach the end.

Any analysis of the role of women in the body of Christ is a polarizing undertaking. We must give care, therefore, to avoid an emotional attachment toward what many hold to be the most misogynistic statement in the entire Pauline canon. Instead, we should apply ourselves to an objective analysis of the target passage.

The focal passage of this analysis reads as follows:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. - 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38, NASB

This passage presents us with some interesting difficulties. A fundamentalist student of the Word will begin with this passage, and having established a doctrine from it, work to explain seemingly contradictory passages in light of this passage. I am suggesting an equally valid exercise wherein we reverse that approach, begin with other less controversial, more easily understood passages, and then work toward harmonizing this one by asking more difficult questions than we have previously asked.

Attempts to make peace with 1 Corinthians 14 have been varied in scope and approach.

  • Some claim that Paul did not write these verses at all, insisting that they were added later. That is an argument, or explanation, to which I don’t ascribe much credence. I do believe this came from the apostle Paul.
  • Others will cite this passage as evidence that Paul was inconsistent, and conclude from his inconsistency that we can ignore him altogether and do whatever suits us. Holy Spirit inspiration and inconsistency do not play well together in my mind.
  • Still others contend that Paul was not inconsistent, but rather, simply changed his mind. I dismiss this for the same reason I dismiss the inconsistency analysis. If God changes not, then his inspired message will not change either.

If we take the passage at face value, it does present a clear, apostolic prohibition against women speaking in Christian assemblies, even going so far as to attach some level of shame or disgrace to women speaking "in church." Assuming we do accept the passage verbatim, a number of disturbing difficulties immediately arise. In our spirit of objectivity, we cannot allow ourselves to ignore these difficulties.

Three Challenges With a Literal Reading

  1. What constitutes a church?

    If a woman is to remain silent "in the churches," based on the impropriety of her speaking in church, it is essential for us to determine exactly what constitutes "in church."

    Jesus indicated that a gathering of two or more in his name includes his presence. Is that church? When a husband and wife pray together, is that church? When a small group of believers gathers in my home, is that church?

    I do not ask these questions facetiously. If we are going to take the passage literally regarding the behavior of the female gender in church, then we must take it equally literally regarding the practical definition of an εκκλησια, a "church."

  2. It is problematic trying to harmonize this directive with other biblical passages that clearly display women in positions of leadership.

    • Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophetess in Judges chapters four and five. Following the death of Ehud, Deborah was the fourth Judge/Leader of pre-monarchic Israel. She rendered public decisions on disputes between the Israelites. It was Deborah who sent for Barak and commanded him to go to battle against the pagan Sisera. Barak refused to go unless Deborah went with him. She did, and the honor of the victorious battle against Sisera went to Deborah, not Barak.

    • Huldah, the wife of Shallum, was a great prophetess in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34, during the reign of Josiah. The Huldah Gate in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mound is so named in her honor. When Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law collecting dust in the Temple, the king sent the scrolls to Hulda to have her confirm what the scrolls were, giving clear indication that she was considered the national authority on such matters.

    • Anna, the wife/widow of an unnamed husband, was the prophetess at the temple who, when Jesus was presented on his eighth day, announced to the crowd that the child was the promised redeemer.

      Note: Some will be quick to note that these three pre-church examples appear to be exceptions, rather than the societal standard. That is a valid observation. However, it must also be noted that societal standards are rarely God’s standards, and it is clear that the calling of God on the lives of these three prominent women establishes that the unchanging God does not forbid such practice as Paul appears to be doing. Furthermore, we also see that neither did their culture prohibit it. It may not have been the norm, but clearly it was accepted.


    • The Acts 2 quotation of the prophecy of Joel declares a public role for women in the church, a role which would not have been common in the synagogue. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter gave a speech to the crowd in which he pointed to Joel’s prophecy as being fulfilled through the Spirit of God. Be very clear on this - it is God's work.

      And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, that I will pour forth of My spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; Even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will pour forth of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy. - Acts 2:17-18, (NASB)


      This quotation, speaking of the church age, not only allows that women will prophesy, it actually makes special emphasis of that fact in the last verse, stating that sons and daughters and "both men and women," the bondslaves will prophesy because the Spirit of God will cause them to do so. Intellectual honesty demands we acknowledge that.

    • Philip’s four daughters, mentioned in Acts 21:9 are a fulfillment of the prophecy mentioned above.
       
  3. The "silence" directive of chapter 14 is inconsistent with much of chapter 11 from the same letter.

    In 1 Corinthians 11:3–16, Paul lays down a difficult discourse about head coverings for men and women. It is outside the scope of this blog post to give full treatment to that discourse, but one thing that is clear from the passage is that a woman who wears a head covering may both pray and prophesy.

    The context of chapter 11 is one of a religious assembly, so it is problematic to say this directive is intended for anything other than public assemblies of believers. While it is true that prayer is frequently a private engagement, in 1 Corinthians 14, the very chapter containing our target verses, Paul indicates that prophecy is intended for edification of the entire body.

    • Some have asserted that the seeming contradiction between chapters 11 and 14 are not a contradiction at all, but rather that the assembly in chapter 11 is "informal" while the assembly in chapter 14 is "formal." Such a dissimilitude is never presented by the apostle Paul, and no other New Testament passage notes a distinction between formal and informal assemblies, wherein certain activities are allowed in informal gatherings that are strictly prohibited in formal ones. Thus, this explanation is devoid of a foundation, and it cycles us back to the nagging question, "What constitutes church?"

    • Similarly, some have proposed that the chapter 11 assembly was one in which only women were present which, if true, would allow them to pray and prophesy without violating the directive in chapter 14. Such a proposal, however, is internally inconsistent. In a "women only" assembly, a head covering would be unnecessary according to the line of teaching in chapter 11. Setting aside the theological difficulties of the chapter 11 discussion, what is clear from that chapter is that the head covering is prescribed precisely because "the woman is the glory of man." If only women are present, the head covering is a non-issue.

    • Still others argue that the context of 1 Corinthians 14 includes a discussion of spiritual gifts, specifically, tongues and prophecy. The argument contends that by the time Paul gets to verse 33, Paul is saying the wives of the prophets need to wait until they get home to evaluate and criticize the message. To do so publicly is denigrating to the husband. If this is to be believed, it seems Paul is allowing others to knock the prophetic message publicly, while the wife has to wait for a private moment to do so. Furthermore, this argument neglects the female prophets in the body. Is there to be a similar restriction placed on their husbands? This argument is ludicrous.

A Proposal for Understanding Verses 33b-38

Years of study, attempting to understand this passage, and to harmonize it with other passages in which women are clearly praying and addressing an assembly of believers with a word from the Lord, have brought me to a view of this passage that is not outlined above.

I have concluded that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is not from Paul. Don’t misunderstand me though. Paul wrote them, yes, or rather he spoke them and his amanuensis wrote them for him, but these words do not reflect Paul’s belief, or his teaching.

A Pauline Rhetorical Device

It is not unusual for Paul to implement a practice in his letter-writing of alluding to statements made by his readers, and then responding to those statements. I am convinced that is what Paul has done with our target passage. Scholars agree, almost unanimously, that Paul uses this rhetorical device in his writing, but since we do not have quotation marks in the original Greek manuscripts, scholars do not agree on exactly where all of these quotations are located.

Some examples of this practice, from the letter of 1 Corinthians alone:

  1. 1:2, "I am of (or follow) Paul" … "I am of Apollos" … "I am of Cephas." They say it, Paul writes it, but the words do not reflect Paul's doctrine or belief.

  2. 7:1, Paul writes, "Now for the things you wrote about:" and the very next thing he writes, I believe, is a quotation he presents to the Corinthians, a statement they would recognize immediately. "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." Really? I cannot see a God-inspired apostle saying such a thing with a straight face. The Corinthians say it, Paul quotes it back to them, and then he follows it up with some teaching that says in effect, "That may or may not be true, but if you’re going to find yourself living immorally, it’s just not very sound counsel."

  3. 8:1, "We know that we all possess knowledge." For starters, that’s not even true. Paul responds by saying, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

  4. 8:4, "We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world and there is no God but one." Really? Our world is flooded with idols, just at theirs was.

  5. 6:12, "Everything is permissible." No. It isn’t. Murder is not permissible. Rape is not permissible. Child molestation is not permissible. Sexual intercourse with livestock is not permissible. Worship of idols is not permissible.

  6. 6:13, "Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food." Paul responds, "No. The whole body is for the Lord!"

Similar examples of this rhetorical technique are strewn throughout Paul's epistles, but these are sufficient to make the point. I submit, therefore, that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is a statement made by the Corinthian Christians, a statement to which Paul responds in verses 36-38. To make this assertion, I have to offer convincing evidence, evidence that would cause me to even seriously consider such a proposition. That evidence follows.

The Evidence

To begin with, I should state up front that this is not an idea original to me. Extending as far back as 1924, the American Baptist Publication Society celebrated the completion of their first 100 years of work as a society, and did so by publishing their Centenary Translation of the New Testament. In this translation, 1 Corinthians 14:33b – 35 is set in quotation marks, indicating the committee's belief that Paul was implementing his practice of quoting his audience and then responding to the quotation.

We will come at this from three distinct angles, each of which adds just a bit of weight to the assertion that what I am proposing is an accurate approach to reading and understanding our target passage.

1. Syntax, Vocabulary, and Writing Style

I start with this, because it is the weakest of the three evidentiary arguments, but it is true that writers have certain styles to which they adhere. This is certainly the case with Paul, and while I could offer extensive examples of consistency in his approach to writing, it is my hope that this is a concession the reader is willing to make.

As in all the congregations of the saints…

Consider the opening phrase of our target passage. Paul writes, "As in all the congregations of the saints…" It would have been sufficient to say, "As in all the congregations…" Some scholars have noted that often in the Corinthian literature, the phrase, "the saints" seems to refer to a very specific group of believers. Further study drives us to the conclusion that the specific group in mind is the Palestinian Christians, and perhaps even more specifically, those in Jerusalem.

  • Take, as an example of this, 1 Corinthians 16:1, where Paul writes, "Now concerning the collection for the saints…" The collection to which he refers is for a very specific group of believers - the church in Jerusalem, a body that supported a large number of widows, and which was suffering in the midst of a famine.

  • Another example is in 2 Corinthians 9:1, "For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints…" Again, Paul is referring to the Jerusalem church. They were gathering funds specifically to support their brothers and sisters in Christ in Jerusalem. Paul would be in Corinth later to pick up that support and deliver it to Jerusalem.

Is it reasonable for us to believe that there might be a group of believers in Corinth who would use the phrase "congregations of the saints" in such a way as to refer to the Jerusalem believers? I submit that, not only is it reasonable, but that it might be those very believers who were quoted in chapter 1 as saying, "I follow Cephas" (Peter).

What is it that sets the Cephas-aligned believers apart from the others at Corinth? Cephas walked with Jesus in the flesh, something that neither Paul nor Apollos did. Cephas had a first-hand example from Jesus. He operates in Jerusalem, home of the "mother church," where Christianity finds its roots, beginning with that mighty Acts 2 sermon from Cephas/Peter himself.

Here is a group of believers that says, "Hey, we are those of the old paths. Perhaps out here in Asia Minor, Paul has all these newfangled ways of doing things where you don’t have to keep the customs of the Jews, but we … yes, we follow Cephas; we follow the old ways." The phrase, "As in all the congregations of the saints…" could easily be a flag phrase of the Cephite disciples in the church of Corinth, a phrase that is used to refer to the Jerusalem Christians.

As the Law also says…

The textual argument of 1 Corinthians 14:34 is that the women need to remain silent. Why? What force is put to that argument? It is because the Law says so.

There are three glaring problems with this idea.

  • Glaring Problem #1 - In what other passage does the apostle Paul ever say that a Christian must do anything because the Law of Moses says they must do so? I cannot identify a single instance of this occurring. Paul uses the law to illustrate concepts, but never to bind. Indeed the entire letter to the Galatian churches demonstrates quite the opposite truth. Paul says we are free from the Law, so it is unthinkable that he would use it here to bind.

  • Glaring Problem #2 - In every passage in Corinthians where Paul references the Law, he quotes the verse … except here. That is an inconsistency that cannot be ignored. With a statement as dynamic and as impactful as this one seems to be, it would behoove Paul to quote the referenced Law in support of his statement.

  • Glaring Problem #3 - Where does the Law say this, that women must remain silent in the churches? It doesn’t say it anywhere. Nothing in the Law even approaches this. Is it in keeping with Holy Spirit inspiration for an apostle of Jesus Christ to spit out alleged quotations, attributing them to the Law of Moses when no such quotations exist?

Some have tried to downplay this substantial oversight by saying the silence directive from Paul is an "extension" of Genesis 3:16, "To the woman he said, 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.'"

I see nothing in Genesis 3:16 that lends itself to silence in Christian assemblies. And even if it did, it is important to realize that Genesis 3:16 is a curse, and not a command. And finally, this extension principle would be a rabbinical interpretation of the Law (curse), and I don’t see the apostle Paul mandating obedience even to the Law itself, much less some rabbinical tradition stemming from their interpretation of the Law, particularly an interpretation as misguided as this one seems to be.

Josephus, a non-Christian, Jewish historian of the first century, in his work Against Apion – Book II, sections 200 to 201, makes the following statement, "The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive." Again, there is no such statement in the Law. What Josephus is referring to is a rabbinical tradition.

In the Mishna and Talmud, we can find a number of misogynistic statements, just like the one Josephus references above. Statements like, "It is indecent for a woman’s voice to be heard," abound in these writings, and it is highly likely that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a reference to such statements as though they were Mosaic Law.

If we tie this idea back to the core argument in this section, we have the Cephite disciples reflecting the Judaic culture, saying, "We do things the way they do them in the motherland, and one of the things they do in the motherland is they prohibit women speaking in public."

2. The Greek Disjunctive Particle, η

Multiple occurrences of the Greek disjunctive particle η are found in our target passage. According to the Greek-English Lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich, this disjunctive particle "separates opposites which are mutually exclusive." Lidell and Scott, in their lexicon, state that it is an exclamation expressing disapproval.

Twice in our target passage, Paul uses this disapproving, mutually exclusive particle. It carries the idea of a "not" used by the youth of our day. "Hey, you’re an excellent hockey player, man … NOT!"

While many translations ignore particle completely, the King James Version translates it, "What?" or sometimes, "Never!" To get a feel for how Paul uses this disjunctive particle, let’s take a look at its usage in other passages.

For our purposes, I will render the disjunctive particle as "Preposterous!" That accurately captures the idea. Paul uses this throughout his writings, but we will constrain ourselves just to 1 Corinthians, since that is home to our target passage. When you see this particle in action, I believe it will shed bright, new light on our target passage.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:1-2, "Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Preposterous! Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?"

  • 1 Corinthians 6:8-9, "On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. Preposterous! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?"

  • 1 Corinthians 6:15-16a, "Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Preposterous! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her?"

  • 1 Corinthians 6:18b-20a, "Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Preposterous! Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?"

  • 1 Corinthians 9:5-8, "Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Preposterous! Do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Preposterous! Who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Preposterous! Does not the Law also say these things?"

  • 1 Corinthians 10:21-22, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Preposterous! Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?"

  • 1 Corinthians 11:13-15a, "Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Preposterous! Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?"

  • 1 Corinthians 11:20-22, "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. Preposterous! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you."


Now that you have the idea how the particle functions, let’s place it in our target passage and see how it sheds new light on the actual meaning. Also, note that I have supplied quotation marks around what I believe Paul is quoting back to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-38

"As in all the churches of the saints, the women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church." Preposterous! Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Preposterous! Has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

When we look at our target passage, with the disjunctive particle in place, we see Paul saying that the statement requiring women to be silent in the Christian assembly is completely asinine. He raises the question, "Did the Word of God originate with you folks?" That too is asinine! "Perhaps you’re the only ones it has reached and the rest of us are in the dark."

Paul is using a powerful rhetorical device, following a pattern he has used throughout the Corinthian letter. He states the Corinthian position, expresses disapproval with the disjunctive particle, and then moves forward, teaching an accurate view or understanding. In a sense, it is like the modern-day practice of shaming.

At the end of this section, Paul asserts his apostolicity, saying he is the one with a word from the Lord, not the Cephite disciples, and refusal to hear Paul on this puts the Corinthians in danger of not being "recognized."

3. The Masculine Pronoun "You"

In verse 36, Paul asks, "Was it from you (plural) that the word of God first went forth? Preposterous! Has it come to you (plural) only?"

Strictly speaking, Greek pronouns do not have gender attached to them. We must determine the gender from context and sentence construction. From that, we can tell if a pronoun, "you" in this case, is masculine, feminine, or neuter.

In this passage, the gender is determined by the modifier, "only" (μονους). Monous is masculine, and from that, we determine that you (υμας) is also masculine. Thus, in English, we might say what Paul said in this way, "Was it from you men that the word of God first went forth? That’s preposterous! Has it come to you men only?"

In fairness, and in the interest of full objectivity, let’s consider the fact that often masculine pronouns are used to refer to entire mixed-gender assemblies. A speaker may stand before a group and say, "Now, brethren…" but he’s not speaking only to the men. He is addressing the entire assembly, but using a masculine term in doing so. Paul says, "By faith we have all become sons of God." Do all women become men when they embrace their faith in Christ? No. This is a commonly used rhetorical device.

So, in our target passage, the masculine "you" could be inclusive. Or, it could be deliberately exclusive, as I believe it is. I believe Paul chose his masculine "only" as a dig, to chastise these arrogant Corinthian men, specifically the Cephite disciples, for teaching and practicing an oppressive stance regarding the sisters in the church.

Beyond the masculine pronoun, context itself seems to demand that Paul is addressing the men in this passage. The passage says that they (women) are not permitted to speak. Let them (women) subject themselves. If they (wives) desire to learn anything, let them ask their husbands.

This thoroughly demonstrates that Paul is talking to men about women. The men at Corinth were saying, essentially, "If women want to know something about what we’re doing here, let them ask their own husbands at home, because we all know it is disgraceful for a woman’s voice to be heard in public, and far be it from us to bring disgrace on the body of the Lord."

Therefore, when Paul says "you" in verse 36, the "you" being addressed is the men, and these men are being verbally spanked by the apostle. Paul says to these men, "That’s dangerous teaching, guys. It sets you up in the place of God as his only mouthpiece."

Furthermore, according to Paul, if it is only the men’s voices that are to be heard in public, we have a real problem with verse 31 in this same chapter, where it says all (παντες) may prophesy in turn, not just the guys. Remember Joel’s prophecy that God will pour out his Spirit on "all flesh," men and women, your sons and daughters, and that your sons and daughters will prophesy. We saw it with the four daughters of Philip, and we saw it with the women of Corinth in Chapter 11.

Indeed, it may be this very prophesying by the Corinthian women that was getting under the skin of the Cephite disciples, causing the stir that resulted in Paul quoting back to them in verses 33b – 35.

In essence, Paul says, "All may prophesy so that all can learn and be exhorted; the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. Now, if this is the case, how is it that some of you men are saying the women cannot prophesy, but that they must remain silent? I am the inspired apostle here, and I never taught you that. If you don’t acknowledge that I am giving you the command of the Lord, then you will not be recognized either!" (My rough paraphrase)

That’s very strong language. We would do well to heed it.

Conclusion

On the basis of these three arguments, I have concluded that 1 Corinthians 14:33b – 35 constitutes a quotation of a specific segment of the Corinthian men to whom Paul responds, "Guys, go pound sand! The Spirit of God has come on both the sons and the daughters, and these sisters have a function and a word from God for you. And for you to teach otherwise puts you in a very precarious position with God."

I have a real problem with this passage if we are to take it literally as the belief and teachings of Paul. If this is Paul’s inspired position, then I must assume women are to be silent in public. They are not to be heard. Since there is no biblical distinction between formal and informal gatherings of believers, then women are not to speak in classes, in small groups, in fellowship meals, any place where there is a gathering of disciples. Sitting in my living room in the privacy of my home, if other believers are there, even one, my wife must remain silent.

Yet I see Huldah was a great prophetess. I see Deborah as a magnificent, brave Judge. I find Anna in the Temple announcing the Redeemer. I see the daughters of Philip prophesying and edifying. If we are to believe that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is from Paul, then all of these women were inspired by God to do something his own Law condemned, and I cannot accept that.

This passage must be harmonized with clear teachings in other passages. It must make sense to the people to whom it was written, and it must be seen in the context of their time, their culture and their belief system. Only then can we know exactly what was meant.

I believe this was a statement made by, and belief held by the male, Cephite disciples in Corinth. I believe they were seeking an opinion from former Pharisee, Paul, on it, and if not, he offers one anyway. I believe Paul threw their quotation back at them and told them it was preposterous thinking and teaching. I am convinced that Paul is telling them that the exact opposite is true, and he hit them hard with verse 38, saying if they do not accept this then neither will they be recognized.

If I am correct about this, then many in the body of Christ are perpetuating a flawed teaching that is almost 2,000 years old; one which the inspired apostle Paul declared to be ludicrous and dangerous. The suppression of sisters in Christ is not a teaching I can endorse or teach because I believe it to be a teaching that is in opposition to God.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Twitter - @DamonJGray


Comments

06/12/2018
Wendy L Macdonald  Wendy L Macdonald

Thank you for researching and writing about this topic, Damon. Jesus treated women well--as equals to men--so I've had a hard time reconciling the popular view regarding women not being able to preach in church. This article gives me reason to consider rejecting the stale air I've been led to breathe.

06/12/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

Breathe deeply my friend! The air is fresh and clean.

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Taking a stand for Christ, for truth, for righteousness will make a target out of a Christ-follower more quickly than anything else. Any Christ-follower who would deign to verbally, publicly stand against sin must be prepared for an inevitable onslaught of back-pressure from the evil one.

The world is not friendly toward Christ-followers, and at times we respond to that reality with shock, surprise, and animus, rather than with a nod of expectation and understanding.

Last week, we distinguished between the discipline of a loving father and the attacks of the enemy. We embrace the father's discipline while resisting the enemy's attacks. This week, we look at the inevitability of those attacks, and our response to them.

The World's Hatred

Abandoning the darkness of the world for the light of Christ results in a dramatic remaking of the new Christ-follower from the inside out. The apostle Peter describes the reaction to our rebirth as expressed by our former companions, those with whom we chased after our sensual passions prior to pursuing a life of purity in Christ.

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. - 1 Peter 4:4, NIV-1973

Is the world "heaping abuse on you?" Are you mocked and belittled by those with whom you formerly indulged your senses?

There is an ongoing conflict between the spirit of godliness and the spirit of worldliness, and if that were not so, we should find it alarming. As a follower after Christ, you and I have dramatically different worldviews from those who do not follow Christ. These opposing worldviews cannot be reconciled. What the world praises, God despises. And what God exalts, the world reviles, including us.

The apostle John was quite blunt about this when he said, "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you" (1 John 3:13, ESV). Yet we often see surprise, acrimony, and even outrage expressed at the world's hatred directed toward the faith.

The online community is rife with expressions of lament at the unfairness of the way Christianity is attacked in unequal proportion to every other faith. "Do NOT be surprised," John says.

Jesus expanded on this when he said, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." (John 15:18, ESV).

The Inevitability of Hatred

The apostle Paul made it equally clear to Timothy that we should expect persecution.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. - 2 Timothy 3:12, ESV

Paul did not say we "might" be, or "could" be persecuted. It is not that there is a sixty-seven percent chance of scattered persecution. No. This is a sure thing. If it is your desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you will be persecuted for that. If that is not your desire, then you can live in relative comfort.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. - John 15:19, ESV

The Incompatibility of Light and Darkness

There is endless enmity between the spirit of light and the spirit of darkness. Even within the body of Christ, those who have compromised in order to fit in with the world will take offense at those who stand firm on the foundation of truth.

It is easier to stay silent, even if we disagree with the darkness standing directly before us. But we are called, instead, to be lights shining amidst a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15).

God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), and we are called to be light. But people are not comfortable with pure light.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." - John 3:19-21, ESV

In the physical world, light and darkness cannot co-exist. Light will always dispel darkness. No amount of darkness can overcome even the slightest light. The most meager bit of light from a single match cannot be overcome by every unit of darkness brought against it. My suspicion is that it is the same in the spiritual world - that darkness is overcome by light.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12:21, ESV

The Believer's Response

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. - Matthew 5:11-12, ESV

In contrast to every shred of human impulse within us, Jesus says we rejoice when these events occur. We do not merely endure them, or submit to them. We respond to them with rejoicing. The apostle Peter also added his voice to this discussion.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you...Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. - 1 Peter 4:12-14, 16, ESV

After being beaten by the leaders of the council and the senate of the people, the apostles demonstrated the very attitude Peter has called us to.

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. - Acts 5:41

The victory is in not submitting to and succumbing to the reviling. The victory is in overcoming persecution with Joy.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
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Twitter - @DamonJGray


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There have been times in my distant past when all I could do was feign a smile, shoo the kids outside to play, and then shut myself in the bedroom and cry. Nothing in life is as dominating and paralyzing as a sense of hopelessness.

Financial devastation. Family destruction. Betrayal. Loss of income. Health. Relational pressures.

In other writings, I have described these experiences as being hit by fire hoses from multiple directions. There is no way out. The water is painful, and we feel like we're going to drown, or be blasted to pieces by the intensity of the spray. In this state, one is at the mercy of their anxieties.

In the midst of the onslaught, we fear waking up each morning, because we fully expect to be hit by yet another fire hose spray, and we do not believe we can take any more. Not financially, physically, or emotionally. We have hit the wall.

The Source of Our Trials - It's Not God

As we endure our trials, some well-meaning brother or sister in Christ will often, with the best of intentions, say something like, "Well, God is just testing you, and he will not give you more than you are able to bear," thus making a sideways reference to 1 Corinthians 10:13. Their intent is noble, an attempt to be helpful. Their theology is horrifyingly off-target.

With the blindness of Eliphas, Bildad, and Zophar (Job's friends), our would-be comforters misidentify the source of our life-trials. Though we love them, we are tempted to cry out with Job, "What miserable comforters you all are!" (Job 16:2b, ISV).

Job's friends were determined to extract from Job some hidden sin that had brought all of this destruction down upon him. They were convinced that God was punishing him. They could not have been more misguided or mistaken.

Both our well-meaning friends, and the friends of Job have made the same assumption - that God has brought this calamity upon us. In our friends' case, they assume God is testing us, or teaching us through the fiery trials. In Job's friends' case, they assumed God was rebuking Job for some sin in his life.

Making assumptions about the activity of God is a dangerous game to play. It is much wiser to simply let God speak for himself. In the case of Job's friends, they got a good tongue-lashing from God for their arrogant assumptions.

"My anger burns against you [Eliphaz] and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." - Job 42:7b, ESV

Similarly, if we examine the oft-misquoted 1 Corinthians 10:13, we see that what is called "testing" is really temptation. That tempting comes not from God, but from Satan, just as Job's destruction came not from God, but from Satan.

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. - James 1:13, ESV

Our Response to the Trials - Stand Against Them

Consider this well-known passage:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. - Ephesians 6:10-11, ESV

The source of the schemes and troubles is not God. It is the devil. The strength is what God supplies - the strength to stand against those demonic schemes. To emphasize the point, the apostle Paul says it yet again just two verses later:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. - Ephesians 6:13, ESV

Once again, we are exhorted to "stand against" the trial.

We see a number of truths in these two passages. We see that Satan is the source of the trouble, and God is the source of the strength. We also see that we are to stand firm against the trying circumstance. And finally, we see that standing against the trial involves putting on the whole armor of God, not just the helmet, or just the breastplate, or the greaves. We need the entire armor.

Rethinking Trials - Resist!

That brings me to what I believe is the most potent concept from this passage, a concept that I believe is often missed. We have a calling to resist evil, to resist the troubles brought by Satan, and to sometimes fight against them. Do not miss the fact that the apostle Paul brought military language to this discussion. As Warren Wiersbe noted, "Sooner or later every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battleground, not a playground."

Furthermore, listen to the language of Jesus in his discussion with Peter.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. - Matthew 16:18, ESV

The gates of hell are not anthropomorphized wooden planks, chasing believers all over the globe. The gates of hell are there for defensive purposes, and that means that the church is to be attacking!

Too often, we are encouraged to just endure our trials, to suck it up and bear with the struggle, knowing that we will be stronger on the other side. While it is undoubtedly true that we will be stronger on the other side, that does not mean I am forbidden to resist the trial or the temptation, or even to strike back at it.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. - James 4:7, ESV

In contrast to the teaching from James above, I have been taught to submit to my trials. We submit to God, we submit to the trial, we submit to the pain, we submit to the financial agony. Submit - submit - submit. NO!

We are to submit to God and to resist the devil. And when we do resist him, bearing the full armor of God, he will flee from us.

Recap

By attributing the harsh realities of our lives to God, we are ascribing to him activities and principles that are contrary to his nature.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! - Matthew 7:9-11, ESV

It is absolutely true that God disciplines us (Hebrews 12:6), and that he refines the dross out of our lives (Psalm 66:10, 1 Peter 1:7), but God does this as a loving father, rather than as a cruel, harsh taskmaster.

The harshness in our lives, then, is the result of attacks from the enemy, an enemy that we are instructed to resist, rather than submit to.

It is important to develop an understanding of the character of God and the character of Satan in order to recognize the difference between a harsh attack on our spirit as opposed to a refining discipline or trial brought to us by a loving father.

When we identify the source of our harsh trials, we quickly note that they come not from our loving father, or from the person standing before us. These are spiritual attacks, and they are to be resisted with spiritual weaponry and battlements - truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:14-17).

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:12, ESV

Stand firm, brothers and sisters. Resist! Fight back. Advance the kingdom of righteousness and truth.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray


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From the time I was very young, until I moved away from home, I was taught to stuff my emotions. In a move that still strikes me as over-the-top, when I was in the third or fourth grade my parents sent me to counseling where I learned to stuff my emotions more effectively.

My father rarely showed emotion, and if he was caught doing so, he would be embarrassed and deny having done so, offering some silly excuse or explanation of how we misread him.

Only one time in my life did my father say to me, "I love you," and that statement was couched in an expression of obligation - "Your mother said I'm supposed to tell you 'I love you.'" So, he said it but not really.

I have no doubt that he loved me. He just had difficulty expressing it.

Similarly, I was raised to not show vulnerability, error, or failure. While I have learned, over the years, to express myself emotionally in appropriate ways, the vulnerability and failure issue still haunts me. It can be terribly frightening to admit failure, or to lay bare your inner-man or inner-woman to another human being. But refusal to do so will lead to a lonely existence.

The challenge we face is the pervasive societal perception that vulnerability equates to weakness. The truth is that vulnerability in the proper context (say, with your spouse) is a sign of tremendous strength. Handing your heart and emotions to another person, and giving them permission to do with them what they will, requires tremendous courage and strength. Refusing to admit failure, or refusing to allow vulnerability will negate any possibility of true intimacy in the relationship.

Just as being vulnerable with my wife intensifies my intimacy with her, being vulnerable with God intensifies my intimacy with him. And just as my wife will not behave cruelly with my vulnerability, neither will God do so. Indeed, in my times of lonliness, pain, vulnerability, guilt, the God of all grace and God of all comfort will shower me with love to sustain and strengthen me.

The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. - 1 Peter 5:10b, ESV

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV

God is not put off by my messiness. No matter how great or small my burden, no matter how deep my distress, God is there to hear me and to lift my burden.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
- Psalm 4:1, ESV

In an act of intense vulnerability, we can pour out the burden of our hearts to God. "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us." (Psalm 62:8, ESV) We can commit this outpouring in both safety and sincerity. Not only do we have freedom to call upon the Lord Creator of the universe, but we have the assurance that he is "near" to us when we call.

The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
- Psalm 145:18–19, ESV

If you are not at a place where you can be completely vulnerable with another person, I plead with you to at least be vulnerable with God. He knows already! But lay your heart bare before him. Let this be your prayer every morning...

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
- Psalm 139:23-24, ESV

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray


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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν