Bible Basics 4
There is an old adage in real estate that says the three most important factors in real estate are “location, location, and location.” This also happens to be the one of the most important factors when interpreting biblical texts as well. Recently when the ministry leaders on our staff were talking about this sermon series we noted the tendency for the Bible to be used as a weapon against other people. I believe that in most every case where the Bible is used as a club against other people (and their practices or beliefs) one can always look beneath the surface and see that the Bible passage that is being used as a weapon is also being quoted out of context. In other words, the passage has been removed from its original location and purpose and is being used in ways for which it was not intended. An old adage that I learned about biblical interpretation goes something like this, “a text without context is a pretext.” This is today’s Bible basic: it is important to always discover and respect the context (the location) of a biblical text. Some of the locations to which we need to pay attention include the following: the location of the text in time and culture; the location of the text in the particular biblical book and chapter of the book; and finally, the location in the meta narrative of the Bible as a whole.
Take, for example, Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 14:34–35: “women should be silent in church.” First, let’s look at the time and culture; Corinth was a Greek city and when Jews came into Greece they adopted a cultural practice of men and women sitting on different sides of the aisle and brought it into the house church. Another cultural issue is that women typically receive less instruction on biblical matters then do men in Judaism (think Barbara Streisand in the movie Yentl). So one possibility is that the women are not quite up to speed with everything that is being shared in the house church service. So it is quite conceivable that women were yelling across the aisle to the men on the other side asking questions about what this speaker was referring to. Another possibility is that the women on the other side of the aisle are commenting upon or even critiquing the prophecies uttered by their husbands in worship! As we look at the location of this passage in the book of Corinthians we find that it is in a section where Paul is dealing with issues that come up around disorder and disruption in worship. First he addresses speaking in tongues, and then he moves on to the issue of the women speaking out loudly in the church meeting. So we can see that Paul’s main concern is for order in worship and he is not laying down in law for all time that women should not be active in the church service. We should further note that in I Corinthians chapter 11 he talks about women praying in the church service and in a letter to the Galatians (3:28) Paul asserts that in Christ there is no distinction between male and female. We should also recall that the church Paul started in Philippi was led by women and that Paul has certainly given them permission to lead. Of course, one of his key leaders is another woman named Lydia.
And a look at the larger biblical meta narrative reveals that in the New Testament there is a movement toward a greater inclusion and involvement of people who in the Old Testament do not have a prominent role. Women and Gentiles would certainly fit this category; and in the New Testament we see them playing a larger role. So, when taken in context it is obvious that Paul is not setting a precedent to encourage the church to discriminate against women. Rather he is expressing a concern that worship be understandable and beneficial for all who attend. Being more attentive to the location of biblical texts should likely yield more wisdom for the reader and less pain for those affected by the reader’s interpretation.