Friday, February 01, 2008

Scriptural Authority: A Test Case

Here's Paul, or perhaps some member(s) of his group, in I Tim. 2:

12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

"Continue in faith" might be contrued from the earlier passage:

3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5Forthere is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind,Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time.

That's a quick summary of the kerygma. Moreover, my NRSV source tells me "woman" might well refer to wives, and "man" to husbands. On a plain sense/grammatical reading with a little splash of lower criticism from my NRSV editors, I Timothy implies faith, even with love et al, is insufficient for the salvation of a wife. That is, a woman who gets married and does not bear a child is damned. It's not just a sin; salvation itself seems precluded, as if a necessary condition were being denied. Logically, this might be regimented:

for any wife x, if x is saved, then x continues in faith, ..., and bears a child.

Further, "bear a child" has a plain sense here which, taken strictly, excludes C-sections--something which could not have been intended by Paul or his school. Indeed, the text, namely

11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

alludes to the Genesis creation stories, setting a context for verse 15. It seems wives are obliged to bear children, suffering the curse from Genesis on childbearing. To bear children while evading the curse seems to be a sin, a sin of such magnitude the wife's salvation is endangered, even lost if she does not have at least one child "the natural way." One imagines I Tim. would have quite sternly disapproved of pain medication for childbearing wives.
Of course, my exegesis is ridiculous. I suppose one might "bite the bullet" and insist that I did get it right, and what seems like foolishness to degraded "Greeks" like me is holy wisdom from God; I just don't have the ears to hear it. But that seems farfetched, even in view of Scripture itself. One would have expected such a condition to show up in other discussions of salvation prima facie giving necessary conditions; that it does not show up counts decisively against my plain sense reading. Suppose my reading is off somehow; well, what went wrong?

Maybe I missed the plain sense, particulary in how I regimented the text above. I'd like to see a plausible plain sense alternative respecting the cognitive and expressive limits of the author(s). Perhaps contrary plain sense readings would stretch the plain sense of "plain sense," bringing in covert, speculative opinions to defuse what otherwise seems incredible.

Or maybe I did not miss the plain sense--maybe I expressed roughly what the human author(s) intended while writing at the time--but what the author(s) intended is not the Scriptural significance that God would wish one to take away from the text. In other words, perhaps the human author(s) made an instructive mistake, as Plato seems to have portrayed Socrates making instructive mistakes (e.g. at the end of Republic I). Thus, mistakes would not invalidate the text, but would partially constitute its validity; we are supposed to know better on the basis of more important scriptural principles gleaned elsewhere, like in verses 5-6. The plain sense would not necessarily be the sense Scripture carries.

My point: any method of interpretation that cannot handle this passage is incomplete. Can the Separatists, who are committed to a plain sense hermeneutic, handle it? I'm not sure: maybe a skilled pen could produce a plausible exegesis.


At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

Oh dear. I must question your handling of "yet" in the start of your cogitations. That does not introduce a hard requirement; it reads, in your quote of the NRSV, that child-bearing is *one* means of "salvation".

A footnote ( in the NetBible translation comes up with no fewer than 6 possible interpretations. Well worth *lots* of time to study.

And that's before we get into a discussion about the literality of Adam's existence. 1Tim is advancing based on a fabricated myth, plain and simple; if your reading of the passage introduces "ill will" towards a part of society (a specific half the species, no less!) or otherwise actively oppresses them, then something has gone drastically wrong in the reading or the passage itself.

You could further pose the question "what does this prescription say about God?"...

At 10:29 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Yes, yes--I have no problem with your approach.

That is, you seem to point the way to a look at the text which uncovers an ambiguity which cannot be resolved internally by the text itself.

In effect, the notion of a single plain text reading here is a conceit, a fiction.

And if here, then likewise elsewhere. We shall have to do something like appeal to to natural theology, or historical criticism, or even the tradition of the church, or....

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

Agreed. No single obvious meaning. The footnote I mentioned says the main thing people have agreed on is that the text is hard to translate.

Oh, I forgot the other obvious statement: it says more to me about the culture in which it was written than a prescription for time immemorial.

Seems to me that the Anglican way is to be intellectually honest and say `these are the areas of doubt and uncertainty; these are the possible interpretations' - and then what? I'll let you juggle them? I ask you be internally consistent and play well with others?

Just how wide is the via media anyway? I wouldn't mind knowing what some of the conservative bishops make of it, but as passages go it seems quite likely that anyone spending any time studying it at all is going to come to the above conclusions.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger bls said...

Hate to say, Scotist, but your "ridiculous" exegesis was a living, breathing reality not long ago, per the Rector of St. Mary the Virgin Times Square:

"Earlier this month I visited Father Ryan Lesh, vicar, Christ Church, Red Hook, for a few days. Many know Ryan is an anesthesiologist and was on the faculty of two distinguished medical schools before going to seminary from this parish. While I was with him I remembered that he had written a paper in seminary on the medical and theological response to the introduction of anesthesia. When anesthesia was discovered, many people were not in favor of its use for surgery or dentistry. Pain was a biblically-sanctioned, spiritual tool for helping people remember their dependence on God.

The idea of the obstetric use of anesthesia caused even greater concern among physicians and clergy (all men in that era), because in Genesis God decreed women are to bear children in pain. Queen Victoria had a different idea. Anesthesia was used for the delivery of her eighth child in 1853. That was that. Reason trumped the ordinary literal and traditional reading of Scripture, not for the first time or the last.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

To bls & Tim,

That is horrifying. Thank you for bringing it up though--the proximity of such ways of seeing Scripture seems extremely important to remember when we hash out what Scriptural authority will mean in our Covenant.

I agree wholly that the Anglican way is to honestly acknowledge our coming up short in interpretation, even in urgent matters.

The way forward might involve conceding the text speaks of its culture, while insisting that need not be all it speaks about.

Figuring out "the extra" in the text will involve us going outside the text; in doing so we shall have to presume the truth(s) of "the extra" fit with other truths outside the text.

Well, that is very abstract. In the childbearing case, I think we are driven to reread Scripture on the basis of moral claims whose truth we cannot reasonably--apart from Scripture--deny. And even a partially true theory--like utilitarianism or kantian deontology--might suffice to drive the rereading.

Maybe as long as the rereading can deliver a coherence within Scripture and between Scripture and the world, our reading would be permissible.

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous cajetan said...

AS- sounds like a Thomist solution more than a Scotist one. ;=)

At 4:02 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


The key presupposition rejects any whiff of a double truth doctrine. All truth is theological--in physics, in Scripture--in the sense that primary theology is God's self-knowledge, including apprehension of all truths whatever.

Thus, nothing genuinely Scriptural could possibly contradict a scientific truth. We rely on a pre-established harmony.

But, to the best of my knowledge, both Thomas and Scotus would agree about this.

At 10:09 PM, Anonymous cajetan said...

I defer to your scholarship. Thank you for the concise and memorable comment. I have saved it to a safe place so I won't lose it and forget it.

At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Marc in Plano said...

Have you seen this?

At 3:58 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

That sounds like good news; I'm too far away though to have an inkling about what it might really mean.


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