Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crying Like A Refugee - My Submission to the DLP on the Question of Asylum Seekers

As Australia heads towards a Federal Election in the coming weeks citizens might be forgiven for checking their calendars to make sure they are still in the right year.  Strange as it seems, it is now 2013 and the major parties are still debating the question of asylum seekers who arrive in our country by boat.  Not only that, the issue has reached such a pitch of invective that it makes that by comparison Phillip Ruddock circa 2001 sounds more like Francis of Assisi.  The ALP is going to the coming election with a promise to those arriving in this manner that You Won't Be Settled In Australia.  The Coalition is repeating its promise to Stop The Boats.  These policies play well in marginal electorates, but is this hardline stance from both major parties the only choice that we as a nation have?  There are certainly many who think otherwise.  A good collection of perspectives on this issue can be found here.

One of the privileges that I have is as a State Chaplain to the NSW branch of the Democratic Labour Party.  The party has long had a compassionate stance towards refugees flowing from their strongly pro-life ethics.  When the asylum seeker issue was thrust into the spotlight a few weeks ago, however, I was at that time unable to find a clear policy statement on this particular issue on the Federal website - this is not an uncommon situation for many political parties as policies are frequently rewritten in response to changing facts and it is impossible to have every issue front and centre at all times.  Yet it seemed to me that it was important for the DLP's position to be understood clearly as there is a strong possibility that the party will hold the balance of power along with a few independents in the Senate for the next parliamentary term.  I submitted the following essay briefly outlining what I thought were important points in approaching this issue from a Christian perspective.  I am glad to say that the essay made its way to the Federal Executive and I understand was carefully considered along with a range of other information in the formation of the new asylum seeker and refugee policy which was launched publicly on Friday 9 August.  I reproduce the essay here in the hope of generating further discussion and reflection on the issue.

I would like to thank members of the DLP Executive including Federal President Paul Furnell, Federal Secretary Mark Farrell, NSW Secretary Anthony Craig and NSW Assistant Secretary Nick Williams along with Senator John Madigan for their timely, responsible, and compassionate response to this issue.  Your conduct and dedication makes me proud to be a DLP member.


In his essay on faith and politics in the October 2006 issue of The Monthly Kevin Rudd called on Australia to embrace a more humane approach to refugee policy than had been in place during the Howard years.  He evoked the image of the Good Samaritan as the framework for a humanitarian approach to the Outsider among and stated that Australian Christians should be concerned about their legal and social responsibilities to those seeking asylum.  It seemed, for a moment, as though a leader of the ALP was bold enough to pledge himself to a matter of Principle that might be worth more than any electoral victory.

The past few days have seen those illusions (already fractured in the public eye) shattered for good.  By his new PNG Solution, the Prime Minister has embraced the most punitive and conservative position on asylum seekers of any government in living memory.  He has effectively closed the door on an internationally recognised method of seeking asylum that is routinely used by those in the most desperate of circumstances to prove that he is Not Soft on this issue and take it off the table for the coming election.  Many in Christian communities who had supported Rudd’s earlier stand have been left appalled by the lack of Principle that has been revealed by this policy shift.

We in the Democratic Labour Party should have expected nothing different in the end.  Rudd is simply another in a long line of ALP leaders whose personal scruples (if any should exist) are subsumed beneath the aim of all major parties – Government Or Bust!  This is a party that has demonstrated time and again since 1955 that it will say or do anything to hold the reins of power.  Many of our fellow Australians had hoped that this had all changed and are understandably shocked and dismayed by Rudd’s about-face.  For us in the DLP this should not be a time for I Told You So, but for Let Us Show You The More Excellent Way.

This is not to say, of course, that the Coalition approach to this issue is any more constructive.  Mr Abbott’s proposal to tow any boats carrying asylum seekers back to Indonesia can be dismissed as mere sloganeering.  Even if the Indonesian government were to agree to accept such people back into their country (a situation they have already ruled out) the question remains as to what the fate of the asylum seekers would be in this situation.  Given the fact that Indonesia has a poor record of protecting the human rights of minorities, such as the people of West Papua who have endured decades of oppression, the prospect of asylum seekers being welcomed with open arms is rather bleak.  Realistically, the fact that Mr Abbott is a fan of the Just Tow Them Back approach is precisely so that he does not have to deal with such difficult questions.

There is, therefore, a great opportunity for the DLP in the coming election and the Parliament which follows to advance a new solution to the asylum seeker issue which affirms both our commitment to the dignity and care of all humanity, our belief in a consistent approach to imposing diplomatic, trade and cultural embargoes on regimes guilty of aggression, human rights abuses and breach of international law”, and our obligation to defend our own citizens through maintaining the integrity of our borders.  Developing an appropriate response in light of recent political developments will not be straightforward or simple.

The people smuggling industry has been successful in recent years through capitalising on national and individual weakness.  On the one hand, the Australian government must at least attempt the defence of its indefensible borders or it risks a key facet of political legitimacy.  At the same time it cannot bear the condemnation (local and international) that thousands of deaths at sea would prompt, so it has been forced to accept boat arrivals despite the fact that this particular class of asylum seeker is viewed with suspicion and hostility by the electorate.  On the other hand, those seeking to flee persecution and/or war may find the process of applying for asylum difficult due to the lack of nearby countries that would in fact be safe to seek asylum and the fact that documents such as passports and birth certificates may be hard to obtain (if they were ever issued). 

Enter the smuggler, who offers to take desperate families (for the modest price of their life savings) to a place which is legally and politically obliged to process them.  It’s a licence to steal money and serious attempts to close it down should be supported.  But even given the fact that Lives Are At Stake, does this mean that all options are equally permissible?  Is the option that will most severely restrict the criminal model the one which must be undertaken?

From a Christian perspective, any attempt to protect our sovereignty or to punish the criminal must be tempered by a high view of humanity that has been united to the divine through incarnation and resurrection.  The fact that a human being, Jesus Christ, now lives and reigns forever means that all who are in the image of this human being are partakers of a human nature that has been Eternally Affirmed.  All people have a future because the ultimate Person has a future.  This means that no person – from Conception to Final Breath – may be denied the embrace of community and the right to natural justice.  To deny these things would be to deny the key doctrines of Faith.  It would declare that God does not Live and that Love has not triumphed over Death.  To refuse to welcome the Stranger amongst us is to refuse to accept that God has brought all humanity into a common Relationship through Christ.  Therefore, if such a Relationship has been ordained, it follows that all have a common Responsibility towards those with whom we share this common future.  We do not have the option when we see a fellow human being in need at our gate to say, “This is not my problem.”  This does not mean that we do not have to be prudent in how we address the situation, but we cannot simply refuse to answer the question.  This, in my mind, is what both major parties in Australia are currently doing.  That both leaders can attempt to claim to speak as Christian leaders on this issue is hypocritical beyond all belief.

The development and articulation of an alternative vision for refugee policy, and boat arrivals in particular, is something which the DLP cannot afford to postpone.  For better or for worse this issue has been put on the table for the coming election and is of major concern in our communities.  I do not have the expertise to say what this alternate vision should be at this time, but the Party must seek the facts and come to a position consistent with our foundations.  Others will have much to contribute as to the legal and diplomatic realities and implications.  However, from a moral perspective, I firmly believe that if an alternative is to be put forward by the DLP it must meet the standards of an ethic that prioritises the dignity of our common humanity and opposes the exploitation of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the disadvantaged and the voiceless”.  Such a vision is one that I believe that many of our fellow Australians would share and be prepared to support.

Rev. Luke Collings
State Chaplain
Democratic Labour Party (NSW)

23rd July 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Gender and Ministry: The "Smoking Gun" of Romans 16?

Apologies for the delay in this series, but I have been away from my desk for the last week or so.

As I have noted previously Michael Bird's new work, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives and Bobby Haircuts is driven by a desire to restore the respect for women in Gospel Work that Bird believes has been harmed by the strict complementarianism that he sees as prevalent in much of modern Evangelicalism.  Such an aim is admirable and well worth collective attention.  It is a shame, therefore, that it is unlikely that Bird's rather 'conservative' work will stimulate the changes in culture which he desires.

The title of Bird's tract is adapted from the title of a strict complementarian booklet by the late fundamentalist author John R. Rice.  In many ways the mode of styling is appropriate, as there is very little in this work which might be considered "new".  Unlike John Dickson, who has approached the various uses of Word ministry designations with care and precision, Bird prefers to blur the distinctions between the labels.  Roles such as Prophets and Apostles, for example, are treated as virtually synonymous, and all should be interpreted according to the Egalitarian Manifesto of Galatians 3:26-29. (p.30-34)  This is in keeping with the mode of argument used by the egalitarian position in the past, which has accused complementarians of ignoring instances of women "teaching" in the New Testament.  Complementarians, in contrast, have consistently held that while there are various Word ministries that the New Testament shows are clearly held by men and women alike (e.g. prophecy), there are good reasons to think that there should be a differentiation in how these gifts are to be used and, furthermore, that a particular differentiation is present in the circumstance of "teaching" described in 1 Tim 2:12 that needs to be maintained.  Bird's conclusions, moreover, lack clarity and conviction to the point where the reader is left wondering if he has any positive vision on the issue or merely doubts.  He says:

"...I do not consider myself a complementarian because I have had to bow my knee to the biblical evidence that I think shows that women did teach men in the early church...I do not know what the middle ground is called, who holds it, or where it even is, but I have reached the point where I do not want to be pigeon-holed into either camp." (p.46)

I do not propose to examine the tract in detail here.  Most of Bird's exegetical arguments have already been addressed by Sydney author Claire Smith in her book God's Good Design, which I highly commend to all readers interested in the history of the debate.  However, there are a few points of interest in Bird's tract which require some special comment.

With respect to the key issue of 1 Timothy 2:12, Bird takes a slightly modified form of a previous thesis to argue that this text represents a particular restriction on a unique social condition and should not be automatically applied to all situations.  Rather than seeing Paul's restrictions as applying to the lingering influence of the Artemis cult in Ephesus (a popular thesis in the past), Bird proposes that the 1st Century cultural phenomenon of the "new Roman wives" (women who openly flouted gender conventions and sexual morality) was most likely to be the driving factor. (p.42)  These women may have been involved not only in undermining the moral standards of the Church, but were probably involved in the spreading of false teaching regarding the nature of the Fall and implications for marriage.  Therefore, if Paul is advocating a restriction of women teaching, it is related to a particular type of false teaching and should not be generalised.  As he states:

"Paul is writing to a situation where certain well-to-do women, riding the cultural wave of feminine liberation, are trying to assume aggressively the mantle of leadership before they have properly learned the apostolic faith, and while they have come under the influence of false teachers who are rewriting the creation story to suit the inclinations of the new Roman women.  Paul won't stand for it." (p.43)

Now, it is important to make a concession at this point.  The reading of 1 Timothy 2:12 which Bird (and many others) propose must be considered Plausible.  It is quite possible that an extraordinary circumstance existed in Ephesus at the time Paul gave this injunction and nothing in the epistle could contradict this.  However, this reading has always been considered by complementarians as Unlikely.  This is not only because this reading would seem to go against the more general nature of chapter 2 (e.g. the use of "everywhere" in v.8), but also because in 1:7 Paul labels those involved in the false teaching as those who "want to be teachers of the law", indicating that it was questions similar to those faced by the Galatian church regarding Jewish observance that was the main problem.  The fact that the two false teachers that Paul names in 1:20 were both male also weighs against a particular problem with women who had been deceived with false teaching.  The challenge has therefore been for those who argue for the circumstantial reading to find evidence in Scripture that shows Paul authorised teaching by qualified women in other circumstances and thereby prove that the task of "teaching" was open to men and women in the apostolic period.  An explicit reference in the New Testament does not exist, so egalitarians have searched for a "smoking gun" to move their 1 Timothy 2:12 reading into the Likely category.

Bird thinks that he has found one in the person of Phoebe in Romans 16.  Indeed, so important is Phoebe held to be that she is given a whole chapter of the tract to herself.  Bird views Paul's decision to send Phoebe as the ambassador to the Roman church as an act calculated to undermine the pretensions of both Jew and Gentile to spiritual supremacy.  As both Paul's benefactor and a helper in his Gospel work, she would have been held in high regard by the church at the time.  It is therefore likely that Phoebe would have had a "teaching" role for the Roman church as she brought Paul's letter to the Roman church, not only to clarify any points that Paul may have made, but also to bring healing to the church in order to prepare them for their upcoming role in Paul's mission to Spain.  As Bird concludes:

"My conclusion is that Paul's commendation of Deacon Phoebe, her position as his benefactor, and her role as both a letter carrier and his representative to the Roman churches indicates that women were part of the didactic life of the church and Paul specifically encouraged it.  That is the central thesis of this little ebook!" (p.18, emphasis mine)

In other words, Bird interprets Phoebe's role as the model for the ongoing teaching role of women in the Church.  She is the figure who proves that Paul had no objection to women "teaching" men in the ordinary congregation.  Without this piece of evidence it is unlikely that the particular reading of 1 Timothy 2:12 which Bird advocates can be sustained.

In my estimation, there are three main reasons why Bird's assessment of the role Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 cannot be accepted.

  1. It is an Argument From Silence.  By itself this is not a major objection, but an Argument From Silence usually has to be backed up with other evidence (direct or circumstantial) that makes the argument Likely.  Bird imposes a spiritual-political interpretation on the choice of Phoebe to carry the letter to Rome, but there is no obvious reason why this reading should be preferred.  It may have been that Phoebe had a particular reason to go to Rome at that time, either for business or family reasons.  It may have been that Paul saw no obvious spiritual problem with a woman taking the letter as she would not have been expected to fill the same authoritative "teaching" role as described in 1 Timothy 2:12.  If a case is to be made that Phoebe would have been expected to take such a role then some evidence from the text of Romans (or even the New Testament more broadly) should be offered in support.  However,  no evidence is offered and Phoebe's role as a teacher is merely asserted.  There is much which is hypothetical in Bird's presentation of the circumstance of Phoebe's visit to Rome and it appears more to be eisegesis rather than exegesis which is at work.
  2. It contradicts what Paul wrote in Romans 15:14-16.  Bird's thesis rests on the understanding that Paul's letter to the Romans would have required some sort of "interpretation".  For example, if the Roman church had needed clarification on what Paul meant by "the righteousness of God" they would have asked Phoebe to "teach" them what this meant. (p.17)  However, the way that Paul begins his conclusion to the epistle suggests that he was not expecting that his letter would require interpretation by the letter-carrier.  Paul states clearly in 15:14 that he considers the Roman church to be "complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another".  Bird fails to appreciate that the "difficulties" that Christians in the 21st Century may have with the text of Romans may not have been confusing for the initial recipients.  If there were debates about Paul's meaning, it seems that Paul felt that the elders who were already in Rome would have had no trouble in interpreting his meaning in line with the instruction that they had already received (a reasonable assumption as he refers to many of them personally in his final greetings).  Indeed, Paul's language in 15:15 suggests that Paul is not conveying any information that was not already at least basically familiar to the church.  His aim is to "remind" the Romans of certain points of doctrine, not bring an entirely new set of teachings. If this is the case, the need for Phoebe as an authoritative interpreter seems redundant.
  3. It reverses the meaning of 16:2.  Bird contends that the purpose of Phoebe going to Rome was to be a help to the church there.  If this is so, it is unusual both that Paul would not say as much and that his language hints toward precisely the opposite motivation.  If Paul had said, "I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to receive from her any help you may need from her", then Bird's argument might have had merit.  There would have been a clear understanding that receiving Phoebe as Paul's ambassador means receiving the teaching that she would deliver in Paul's name.  However, this is not how the logic of the verse seems to proceed.  Instead, Paul's point is that as Phoebe is a servant of the church in Cenchrea and a great help to many people (including Paul), she is worthy of help and support  by the church in Rome while she is separated from her home community.  Therefore, Paul is not asking Phoebe to take on his role as Authoritative Teacher for the Romans, but is asking the Romans to take on his role as Grateful Benefactee towards Phoebe by repaying the grace and service that she has already shown to so many.  Of course, Phoebe might have been a help to those in Rome in the same way that she was to the church at Cenchrea, but this is clearly not Paul's expectation.  Paul instead hopes that Phoebe will be served in her hour of need by the Roman church, not that she will serve the Romans in theirs.
In summary, while I support Michael Bird's call for a more loving and Biblical approach to gender relations with respect to Word ministries, I must confess to finding his tract as a whole rather disappointing.  The arguments that he puts up for the acceptance of women as preachers for the regular congregation have not added anything radically new to the debate.  Furthermore, his reliance on Phoebe as the "smoking gun" of women preaching during the apostolic period is particularly weak and is unworthy of his otherwise excellent academic record and standards.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gender and Ministry: Women and the No Respect Problem

The standard of comedy has slipped extraordinarily within the last 25 years as 'comedians' have shifted from Telling Jokes to Making Observations.  Thank goodness for the Internet!  The greatest comedy routines of the last 60 years are only a few clicks away, so if I need a chuckle I don't have to put up with this sort of rot.

The comedy master that most tickles my funny bone is Rodney Dangerfield.  There was a man who could pack more laughs into five minutes than most of the current crop could manage in an hour.  For those who aren't familiar, Dangerfield's "shtick" was the No Respect Everyman.  In his plain suit and tie he could be any Lower Middle Class Corporate Drone who never manages to catch a break.  It is the catch-cry of so many of us: I don't get no respect!  The system is stacked against us - we can't win and so there is no real surprise when we get a Defeat and an Insult at the same time.  We were suckers for playing the game in the first place.  Everywhere you turn, No Respect!

It is clear that the issue of Respect (or rather the lack of it) looms large for Michael Bird in his new work Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts.  In his introduction he gives several examples from his own experience of women in the Church being particularly disrespected by those with a "complementarian" view of ministry.  He recalls his early years in a 'strongly complementarian' church where women were not only forbidden to be worship leaders (note: I take this to mean 'people who lead the singing' rather than 'people who lead the service' but I am happy to be corrected) but were stopped from leading music during mid-week Bible studies. (p.9)  Bird was told by his pastor that anytime there was any sort of "leading" it should properly be done by a male.  This, Bird felt, detracted from the role of Christ as mediator and led him to doubt the theological system at work.  He also refers to a series of events surrounding the Together For The Gospel conference in 2006, where women (even those in full-time ministry) were asked to give up their places so that more men (who did not have to be ministers) could attend.  Bird labels this as a watershed moment for him in shaking off his 'complementarian' affinities due to the lack of willingness of many to speak out against the injustice of the situation.  As he puts it:

I got the feeling that, in some circles, in order to be a complementarian-approved dude, you had to be willing not only to salute at the complementarian flagpole but also to impale your mother, wife, sister, or daughter on it every once in a while to demonstrate your loyalty. (p.10)

A harsh critique, to be sure.  But is it always far off the truth?  Is it possible that our Sisters are occasionally 'sacrificed' for a Greater Principle, even a Biblical one?  It is worth asking the question.

In his tract, Bird sets out to redress the balance in evangelical practice.  He does this most helpfully in two ways.  First, by setting forth a range of views (as he sees it) on Women & Ministry that currently exist within what might broadly be labelled Evangelicalism.  Second, by conducting a study of the portrait of women and ministry in the New Testament and the picture of Respect that it paints of their endeavours.

One of the great problems this debate often attracts is Name Calling, the vast majority of it inaccurate and highly unhelpful.  An easy way to approach any problem is to separate the Good Guys from the Bad Guys and send out the message that If You're Not With Us You're Against Us!   Such binary divisions don't truly reflect the diversity of opinion which exists in regards to the role of women in ministry.  In order to promote understanding of the range of positions, Bird provides a chart adapted from an earlier version from the Evangelical Theological Society (p.13) that outlines the continuum from Egalitarian to Complementarian positions.  It is possible that some people who would place themselves in one of Bird's categories might quibble with the definitions (e.g. Do Hierarchical Complementarians really believe that women are prohibited from any 'office or function where they would be exercising authority over men' or only those where a particular type of authority is required?).  There might also be space on the chart for the more extreme form of 'complementarianism' that Bird encountered in his early years where women are excluded from roles (e.g. prayer, Bible reading, song leading, etc) that go beyond the boundaries laid out in Scripture (might I propose 'Non-Complementarian Patriarchalism' as a label).  But broadly speaking, Bird's intentions are good ones as he encourages all sides to realise that those who differ do not automatically fall into the categories of Misogynist or Liberal Extremist.  If there is to be progress on this topic then unhelpful labeling of those we disagree with cannot be helpful.  We must employ the Paradigm of Respect which Bird finds in the New Testament and which he sees is often lacking in complementarian culture.

Bird clearly does not consider himself an Egalitarian by the definitions he proposes.  Indeed, he believes that passages such as 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 teach that the husband is the 'head' of the wife in terms of Authority, but that it is not appropriate to apply this to ministry patterns.  As he puts it, 'Family headship is determined by gender, but church ministry is determined by divine calling and spiritual gifts.' (p.21)  In fact, as Bird conducts his survey of the place and role of women in the New Testament, what emerges is a picture of partnership that emphasies Equality rather than Inequality.  Bird finds no significant differences between Paul's descriptions of the tasks of his male and female 'coworkers' for the Gospel. (p.29-30)  He notes that women seemed to perform many of the ministry tasks as men (e.g. prophecy and prayer) and points to the language used to describe several prominent women (such as Junia and Priscilla) as evidence that the Church at that period did not consider their ministry to be second-class'.  In the Pauline material in particular, Bird finds no justification for the pattern of disrespect that he sees embedded in the culture of heirarchical complementarianism which he has come to reject.

There are several points in Bird's wider argument with which I must disagree, but I will reserve that for my next post.  I believe it is only fair to reflect here on the question of Respect to which I believe Bird has been right to draw attention.

It is a terrible temptation for Evangelicals of all stripes to see what happens in our Sunday meetings (and particularly the 20 minute talk in the middle) as the Centre Of All Ministry.  If that is Most Important then everything else (by extension) is Less Important, and those who can't or shouldn't be involved here are necessarily Less Important People.  Of course, such thinking is profoundly wrong.  Our communal times are very important, but they are not the only times and contexts when 'ministry' occurs and taking a lower view of those involved in such ministries (either women or men) is simply not in line with the New Testament view.  For complementarians of the more strict variety the issue is complicated because of the restrictions on our Sisters that are seen as necessary if Scripture is to be properly obeyed and therefore how our Sisters will interpret this situation.  Anything not deemed 'teaching' can filed away in the mind under Non-Important Women's Work, and if our Sisters discover that this is how their labours for God are considered then they can (rightly) interpret this as demeaning and sexist.  Often this labelling is unconscious, but that is not an excuse.  It is therefore up to men to make sure that ministry undertaken by their Sisters in the congregation is treated and spoken of with Respect, for then our Sisters will themselves feel Respected.  Considering the extent to which they are willing to give of themselves to the work of the Gospel (often showing up the men) I think this is the least they should expect.

Next time: Romans 16 and the Problem of Phoebe

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gender and Ministry: Why John Dickson is Wrong about Women and Preaching (part 3)

The last several days have seen quite a hive of activity and interest regarding Dickson's recent publication.  By and large (from what I've seen) the debate has been conducted at a fair and reasonable spirit.  This is positive, as the ultimate aim of any discussion of this type is to achieve clarity on what the position of each side of the argument actually is so that those outside can determine whether a new thesis has merit.  I, personally, am very grateful to John Dickson for engaging with some of my thoughts on this blog.  His comments have helped me to sharpen up my thinking not only on his position but on my own as well.

Before we move on to discuss what it means "to teach" and what place a "sermon" has in the life of the Church, it would be worth quickly recapping the points of Agreement and Disagreement that have been covered so far.

John Dickson and I basically agree:
1) That it is important to allow Scripture to dictate the definitions of Word ministries.
2) That the ministry of "exhorting" (parakaleo), while having areas of overlap, is distinct from the ministry of "teaching" (didasko)
3) That having time during the gathering of the Church for the ministry of exhortation would be a Good Thing.
4) That it is too common in evangelical culture for women to be denied the opportunities to use their spiritual gifts in a way consistent with Scripture because of an exaggerated fear of transgressing the prohibition of 1 Tim 2:12.
5) That complementarian evangelical leaders should make the effort to reassess their ministry structures to see if inappropriate exclusion against our Sisters In Christ is occurring and make changes where necessary.

John Dickson and I basically disagree:
1) That the semantic range of parakaleo can extend to include "to comment on and apply a text of Scripture."
2) That an analogue can be made between a modern "sermon" and either Paul's speech in Acts 13 or the mission of Silas and Judas in Acts 15.

That is as far as we've got.  Whether a modern "sermon" can or should be regarded as "teaching" is the next topic to which we must turn.  However, while word studies and historical context can help us, I believe that this is a question more of systematic theology than Pauline exegesis.  I believe there is no "proof-text" that we can appeal to prove the sermon's credentials as "teaching" for the simple reason that considering the sermon as an early church phenomenon would be an anachronism.  The sermon is, instead, a product of the changed Doctrine of Scripture that the Church inherited in the post-apostolic age.  It is a reaction to what Holy Scripture was found to be and what the Church was created to be.  This means the discussion must move into areas of Ecclesiology and Christology, but I believe that this will result in clarity rather than confusion.

Discerning the Meaning of Didasko and Didaskolos

I had initially intended to do a lexical study of didasko in a similar fashion to how I had treated parakaleo in the previous post.  However, I found that Lionel Windsor had pipped me to the post, saying almost exactly what I was going to say but much better (he is a New Testament expert, after all).  I encourage all my readers to take the time to read Lionel's work as he goes into far more detail than what I now intend to do here.

Respecting the place of "teaching" in the New Testament, Dickson writes:

'Historical and exegetical considerations combined make clear that "teaching" for Paul means preserving and laying down the fixed traditions of and about Jesus as handed on by the apostles.  Teaching is not explaining a Bible text, nor is it applying God's truth to congregational life; it is making sure that the apostolic words and rulings are well known and maintained in the church." (p.18, emphasis original)

Dickson's definition of "teaching", we notice, has very clear boundaries.  If you were a 1st Century Christian and you wanted to know, for example, what Jesus said in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, you would ask the Teacher of your church to relate the story.  However, if you wanted to ask a follow-up question as to how the younger son could be so openly embraced when he had clearly broken one of the Ten Commandments by dishonouring his father, it was not the Teacher's job to tell you but someone else's (e.g. the Exhorter or Prophet).  Once the New Testament was recognised as the written form of "teaching", then this written tradition came to replace the oral tradition that was present in the earliest days of Christianity. (p.20)  Therefore, the role of Teacher for the church, if it exists at all, does not exist in the same technical sense that Paul refers to in 1 Tim 2:12.

It is important to acknowledge the accuracy of the historical context that Dickson outlines.  Certainly, in the early days of Christianity, the 'apostolic deposit' was indeed a primarily oral tradition.  Any new teachings would have to be weighed not against an authoritative text, but against how they would compare to the message which had been believed.  As a result, the role of Teacher most probably looked very different in that context from what we might imagine it to be.

Yet I still have two main problems with Dickson's thesis.  First, the New Testament seems clear that the role of Teacher was not only concerned with the preserving and laying down of the fixed traditions, but that other aspects of interpretation and comment were involved.  Second, Dickson's proposal appears to focus on the Means of "teaching" rather than its Ends, with the result that applications for the modern context are misinterpreted.

The Teacher (didaskalos) in Scripture is, as Dickson maintains, usually viewed as a source of oral traditions or revelation that can be then passed down to the Faith Community.  However, it is also clear that these Teachers were not merely information repositories, but were also expected to interpret and apply the tradition to their context with the expectation that others will internalise the information.  Thus, in my view, Dickson's restriction of the role seems to me to be without justification.  Though this topic could be explored in far more detail, a few examples will have to suffice.

The Old Testament example par excellence is the address of Moses to the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy.  Moses' intention is not merely to recite the revelation of the Law which he has received from God, but he does so in order that the Israelites might "hear" them and follow them in the Land (Deut 4:1-2).  After Moses has finished outlining the Law, he then offers application and comment in the form of Blessings & Curses and encouragements that this Law is not too hard to follow (Deut 27-30).  Moses seemed to have been keen not only to tell the people what God had said, but what they should do and how they should do it.  Moses the Teacher was, in fact, commenting on and applying his own word.

In the New Testament, the figure we see as the primary Teacher is Jesus.  It is the title that he is most often given by both Followers and Casual Observers during his earthly ministry.  There are several interesting aspects about the labeling of Jesus as Teacher.  First, he is given this title without having any attachment to a particular rabbinical tradition.  Instead, his teaching role is first observed  within the context of Jewish religious communities with an established written tradition and as having an authority distinct from those who would usually be seen as religious instructors (Mk 1:21-22).  Second, Jesus is appealed to as a Teacher not only to recite established teaching but also to comment and apply it to particular questions (e.g. Mk 10:17-31, Lk 12:13-21, Lk 20:27-40).  Jesus' actions show that the people expected him not only to know, for example, what Moses said but also how the tradition should be applied in contemporary context.  Of course, we must be careful about generalising to ourselves what may be proper to Jesus alone, but it is at least worthy of note that this pattern of teaching is much more integrated in terms of passing on and commenting on/applying the message than the definition Dickson prefers.

In my past life studying Educational Psychology, one of our foundational principles was that "learning" does not occur solely as an external reality of "knowledge" is "transmitted" from teacher to student.  Instead, information and principles must be internalised so they may later be applied to the life of the student outside the learning environment.  In this way, "learning" is predicated on the belief that the Teacher has done more than communicate the knowledge clearly, but has done so in a context where the Student has received the knowledge and has been willing to submit to the expertise of Teacher so as to alter their established knowledge categories and preconceptions in order to integrate the new information.  This has to happen in the context of a relationship of trust and a recognition of the authority of the Teacher.  If such a relationship isn't present and the focus is on information only then it is unlikely that any real learning will occur.

Bearing this in mind, I concur with the definition given by Lionel Windsor regarding the shape of New Testament teaching:

'To “teach” normally refers to an activity of transmitting intellectual and moral truth from one individual to another (or to a group of others), in a manner which is usually predicated upon some relationship of order or authority between teacher and learner (e.g. parent-child, teacher-disciple, leader-community).'

But what of Dickson's assertion that such an understand of the activity would have been far from the apostle Paul's mind in 1 Timothy 2:12 and that what would have been foremost would have been the passing down of oral tradition?  It is important at this point that a distinction is made between the Means and the Ends of "teaching".  What Dickson is claiming is that because the Means of "teaching" have necessarily altered because of the acceptance of the New Testament there must not anyone in the Church who works towards those original Ends.

Let's take the example of Engineering.  Ever since the 17th Century a standard tool for the engineer was the slide rule.  As a consequence, if you did serious study in engineering anytime from then up to 1980 you would have been expected to be proficient in the use of these instruments.  It might have fairly been said that engineers were the Slide Rule People.  However, with the advent of professional electronic calculators the slide rule quickly fell out of favour and now are only of interest to extremely nerdy collectors.  Would it therefore be fair to argue that because everybody now uses calculators that there are no longer any such people as engineers because they were the Slide Rule People?  Of course not!  Just because the Means of their profession have changed the Ends (building roads/bridges/dams/etc) are still the same.

The same might be said of the office of Teacher.  The Means of their office have changed as they no longer have to preserve and lay down the apostolic oral tradition.  However, if those Means were directed towards an End that the ancient and modern Church have in common, then it may be that others in the modern Church might also fulfill the role of Teacher and thus the command in 1 Timothy 2:12 would have continuing relevance.

But what might this End for the Church be?

A People in the Incarnate Word through the Written Word

Here we must discern what the purpose of the "sermon" is, and thus the office of Teacher, by considering for what Ends the Church has been established by God.  I can think of no better passage with which to start than Ephesians 1.  A complete exposition is beyond the scope of this post, but a few observations are necessary.  First, those who are called by God are those Predestined to be a Household expecting an Inheritance.  Not only our Legal but our Relational status has changed with respect to God.  Second, such benefits flow to those whose identity is In Christ.  Our righteous status comes though being a community incorporated into Christ and thus sharing in the victory that he has over sin.  Third, the same power that makes the Church wise with respect to God is the same power that has raised up Christ as head of the Church.  The Church which knows and submits to Jesus as its Head is that which is acting according to the true will of God.  Therefore, the Church is eternally a community under authority, one that does not determine its own destiny but is eternally submissive.

But who is this Christ that the Church submits to?  John 1:1-17 tells us that this Christ is the Word of God made Flesh.  This incarnate Word is not in competition with the written Word but is in fact the pure revelation of the godhead and the source of the authority of all Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.  Moreover, this Word came to be not just the Subject but the Content of God's highest revelation now and forever (Heb 1:1-2).  As T. F. Torrence puts it:

'The Word of God has taken historical form and is now never without that historical form.  It takes its form from our human language and our human reason, but it is all that as the medium of divine revelation, and permeated with the message of God.  Here the Word of God become flesh is no mere message from outside of, or alongside of, the historical event of Jesus, but is Word of God to man as essentially human word an essentially historical event, and yet without ceasing to be the transcendent and eternal Word of God.  That Word of God become event, that message of God active in history, is the New Testament kerygma or proclamation, and in the very heart of that kerygma, as its content, is the person of Christ.' [1]

The Church is called to be a community in submission not simply to textual propositions, but to the historical reality of Jesus as the Word of God amongst us.  But this reality is proclaimed by the living Word of Scripture, for in it God testifies to Jesus' testimony to himself.  Thus, as the Church hears the Written Word not only read but expounded in the congregation they are engaging in an act of communal submission to what God has done but what God is continuing to do through the authority given to the Resurrected Word.  The Bible lives because Jesus lives!  Therefore, while we might tease out words and look for applications in a particular text in a sermon, this is never the End of the exercise:

‘Scripture is not simply a propositional shaft to be exegetically mined and theologically refined like so much textural dross to be purified into systems of philosophy and morality.  On the contrary, both the form and content of the New Testament are elements in the divine drama of revelation and redemption (i.e., focusing on the triune mission of Word and Spirit, what God says and does on the stage of redemptive history).' [2] 

The role of the Teacher in the early Church was not merely to preserve the apostolic tradition in order to pass it on, but to create and encourage by that message a community maturing in faith and ready to life as disciples of Christ in this present age. The real End, therefore, of any "teaching" in the Church is not what individuals might get out of it in terms of knowledge and application, but instead what God is doing through the congregation as they come under his Word in an attitude of humility.

Ultimately, it is neither the preacher nor Scripture that is the true Teacher of the Church, but Jesus himself.  Acknowledging him as our Spiritual Head entails both submission and obedience (Jn 13:13-17).  As such, the Church finds its identity in the Incarnate Word through submission to the Written Word.  In doing so, the Church fulfills the purposes for which God called in Ephesians 1.

But does this mean that Dickson is right, and that the Church should have no human teacher but only Jesus through the Word?  I believe the answer is No.  That the Church retains the office of Teacher is an expression of the Relational aspect of teaching.  We would be missing something important if, for example, during our communal times we merely assigned 20 minutes of silent Bible reading and expecting that this would constitute "teaching".  Instead, I believe, during a sermon the Teacher leads the gathered redeemed community in an act of communal submission to the Word with the expectation that God will teach through the Teacher.  In this the Teacher is a Shepherd who serves under the Great Shepherd, feeding and caring for the flock until the Great Shepherd returns (cf. Jn 21:15-19 1 Pet 5:1-5).

As a consequence, we can see that the restriction on the teaching role of women in 1 Timothy 2:12 has ongoing relevance as it relates to an act of communal submission that has parallels in the created order.  How is it possible that the community could engage in proper submission to the Word through the teaching of appointed elders if symbolically they were re-enacting the pattern of rejection of God's order in Genesis 3?  In fact, when 1 Timothy 2 is considered as a whole, it is all about the community adopting attitudes of Christ-like submission - everybody is to submit to the authorities placed in power by God by praying for them, men are to submit by pursuing prayer rather than disputing, and women are to submit by rejecting worldly status symbols and embracing quietness.

At this point it is necessary to stress again the appropriate limits of this understanding of "teaching". It does not mean that women should be restricted from ANY type of Word ministry because of the fear that they will pass on knowledge to a man and therefore rob him of his God-given Masculinity.    Instead, as I understand it, the ONLY direct application of 1 Timothy 2:12 is during that particular period of united communal submission to the Word.  There is no warrant to extend it all aspects of pastoral or Word ministry, such as weddings, funerals, administration of sacraments, chaplaincy ministry, and so forth.  As a general principle, in the ministry of the Church (by which I mean All Believers, not just Clergy) should be a partnership between men and women, each using their gifts as God has given for the glory of His name.  But for that brief 20 minute space in our communal life as we come with equal submission before God's Word to be taught by Him there remains an exegetical and theological case that this activity should be led by and happen though the ministry of a man.


[1] T. F. Torrence, Incarnation: the Person and Life of Christ (ed. Robert T. Walker; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 13.

[2] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “The Apostolic Discourse and its Developments”, in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics (pp.191-207; eds. Markus Bockmuel and Alan J. Torrance; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 194.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gender and Ministry: Why John Dickson is Wrong about Women and Preaching (part 2)

John Dickson's argument regarding the suitability of women to preach sermons to a congregation of men and women relies on his interpretation of the verbs "to exhort" (Gk. parakaleo) and "to teach" (Gk. didasko).  For both these verbs Dickson extends their semantic range beyond their traditional usage.  This is a perfectly acceptable method - the history of theology is rife with examples of mistakes being passed down for generations because no-one thought to ask the question, "Does this word mean what we've always assumed it means?"  It may be that these verbs in fact warrant a broader (or more restricted) definition than was previously thought.  But words are like elastic bands - you can only stretch them so far until they break.

In this post we shall look at the verb parakaleo and its cognates to see whether it can "stretch" to the new definitions that Dickson proposes.  We shall start here not only because that's where Dickson starts but also because, I believe, his exegesis of this particular verb influences his later treatment of didasko and his interpretation of the act of "preaching".  If he is right about this verb then many of his later arguments may have warrant.  If he is wrong, then many of the assumptions he makes about preaching and teaching may need to be rethought.

It is firstly important to note that both verbs under consideration have both a general (i.e. able to be used and understood by Christians and non-Christians alike) and specific (i.e. particular application to the ministry of the Church) use.  Anyone might "teach" a man to fish, but only a suitably gifted Christian might "teach" that same man the message of Jesus.  It is a matter not only of context but of Spiritual leading.  Additionally, Scripture can use a verb in a general sense even when addressing a fellow Christian regarding the ministry of the Church.  For example, the use of didasko in 1 Timothy 2:12 carries a certain theological weight that is principally absent in passages such as Titus 2.  While the general and specific senses might be theologically distinct, it must be remembered that they are not unrelated.  In fact, it is an accepted principle that the general use of a term can assist greatly in defining its specific limits for use by the Church.

Defining Parakaleo in Scripture

As much as there are inherent problems with starting with a dictionary to get our definitions, it's not a bad place to start our journey.  At least we'll know what we're going to disagree with!

In BDAG (the standard Greek dictionary) parakaleo is defined as:
    1) to summon, call to one's side
    2) to appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage
    3) to request, implore, appeal to, entreat
    4) to comfort, encourage, cheer up
    5) to try to console or conciliate (possible definition)

The first thing to note is that parakaleo includes but is not limited to verbal action.  While it is possible to imagine "comforting" or "consoling" being non-verbal in certain circumstances, it is hard to picture someone "summoning" or "urging" or "entreating" without opening their mouth.  In whatever way Dickson goes on to define "exhortation" in its specific use, it must at least broadly fall under a Word or Speech category.  The question is what kind of speaking is on view?

The truth is that, if we leave to one side for a moment the verses that Dickson specifically appeals to, there is not a lot of support for defining parakaleo as encouraging others to heed and apply God's Word in its written form.  The one example that was found was tenuous to say the least and regarded as non-canonical by Protestants.

In the Septuagint (LXX) there are several situations where parakaleo is commonly used.  The first is as the action of comforting someone who is mourning the death of a loved one or has suffered some great hardship (e.g. Gen 24:67, 2 Sam 10:1-3, 2 Sam 12:24, 1 Ch 7:22, Eccles 4:1, Job 2:11).  The second is the action of strengthening an individual or group for a difficult task that lies ahead (e.g. Deut 3:28, 1 Macc 5:53-54, 1 Macc 13:1-9, 4 Macc 16:24, Ps 23:4, Isa 35:4).  The third is the showing of practical assistance to a person or group in need (e.g. Jdg 21:15, Ruth 2:13).  Fourth is the strong encouragement to take a particular form of action (e.g. 2 Macc 6:21, Prov 8:4)  There are a few minor variations, but in none of them could I detect even a vague connection to the act of exegeting Scripture.  The closest example is 2 Maccabees 2:3, where the prophet Jeremiah spoke to those going into exile and after reading from the Law "he exhorted them that the Law should not depart from their hearts."  However, it is difficult to classify Jeremiah's actions in the context as "sermonising", and I think this example would fit easily with my fourth option.

In the New Testament we find the pattern of usage virtually unchanged.  People in hardship are comforted, (e.g. Matt 5:4, Lk 16:25), people are strengthened for action (e.g. Lk 3:18, Acts 14:22), and particular actions are strongly encouraged or "begged" (e.g. Matt 18:29, Mk 5:17, Lk 7:4, Acts 11:23, Rom 12:1, 1 Cor 1:10, 1 Cor 4:16, 2 Cor 2:8, Eph 4:1).  But several other usages also start to appear.  Exhorting is described as being an appropriate Christian response to slander (1 Cor 4:13).  The act of fellowship is also said to be a mode of "exhorting" (Heb 10:25)  There are also several instances where the role of the written Word is described as "exhorting" rather than "teaching", usages which seem to run against Dickson's broader thesis (e.g. Rom 15:4, Heb 13:22, Jude 3).  "Exhorting" is said to come through great patience and teaching (2 Tim 4:2).  There is also an interesting case in Titus 1:9 where "encouragement" is said to come out of "teaching" which BOTH come out of "the faithful message as taught" (that's probably a whole post by itself)!  Once again, there is no indication in any verses outside of those specifically appealed to by Dickson to suggest that the act of "exhortation" involves commenting on and applying the written Word.

All of this so far proves nothing.  While it is possible that all of the above examples could be interpreted as merely referring to exhortation in a general sense (though in my opinion that would require an extremely slippery exegetical method) Dickson could still claim that his proof-texts refer to a specific use that applies only to the redeemed community in Christ.  The only way that this argument could be disproven is if there was a passage in the New Testament where "exhortation", particularly as it relates to the apostle Paul, was described in such detail as to provide a different interpretation from that which Dickson proposes and instead reveals a different framework for interpreting parakaleo in its specific sense.

Unfortunately for Dickson, such a passage does exist in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, which reads:

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (parakleseos). He comforts (parakalon) us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort (parakalein) those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort (parakleseos) we ourselves receive (parakaloumetha) from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort (paraklesis) also overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort (parakleseos) and salvation. If we are comforted (parakaloumetha), it is for your comfort (parakleseos), which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort (parakleseos). (HCSB)

It would be hard to find a clearer explanation of the specific use of parakaleo for the Christian community than this.  It is clear that the task of exhortation for the Church is not exclusively related to the exposition and preaching of a written text, but in passing on the Comfort In Affliction with which the Father has comforted us in Christ.  God's comfort comes to though who share in the sufferings of Christ by those who acknowledge him as Lord in this unbelieving age.  As Paul himself faces afflictions and sufferings, he does not lose hope for two reasons.  First, because if he suffers it will be for the comfort of those with whom he is united In Christ.  Second, the comfort he has received from God enables him to endure towards his ultimate goal of sharing in Christ's resurrection.  This exhortation might come in the form of a sermon to a congregation, but there is no indication here that heeding the words of Scripture and applying them is what is primarily on Paul's mind.  Exhortation means helping all those who are doing it tough to keep going with Faith in Christ.  It might involve prayer, sharing stories of hope, reading the Bible, or sitting in silence.  In fact, in 2 Corinthians 7, it is the coming of Titus which Paul says is his primary "encouragement".  While an individual or congregation in certain circumstances might find a particular sermon "encouraging", there is no reason to conclude that it will always be so or that exhortation can be reduced to a talk following a Bible reading.

Again, so far this proves nothing.  However, it does mean that Dickson's theory has to pass a much more stringent exegetical test than it first appeared.  Only if the key passages respecting parakaleo cited in Hearing Her Voice cannot fit either the general or specific uses outlined here can we accept Dickson's interpretation as valid.  We shall now put these verses to the exegetical test.

Considering Acts 13:15, 15:31-32 and 1 Timothy 4:13

The first verse that Dickson appeals to for his interpretation of parakaleo is the invitation for Paul to address the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:15.  'In this passage, "exhortation" seems to be a public speech following a Scripture reading - not unlike a modern sermon." (p.13)  There are three difficulties with this argument.  First, the word paraklesis in this verse is used not by one of Paul's fellow Christians but by the unconverted synagogue rulers.  Consequently, we should expect this word to have been used in its general rather than any specific sense, which has been shown to never refer to preaching.  It is highly unlikely that when the synagogue rulers asked Paul if he had a "word of encouragement" that they expected him to preach an expository sermon on the passages of the Law and Prophets that had just been read.  Instead, given that Paul and his companions were from Jerusalem, the leaders of this provincial Jewish community were hoping that Paul would give them an encouraging report of how things were going at "headquarters" that would lift their spirits and help them to keep faith in God under the pains of exile and Roman domination.  Second, an expository sermon on the readings is NOT what Paul gives his hearers.  He makes references to the Law and history of Israel and quotes from the Prophets and Psalms, but there is no indication that a direct connection existed between the readings and what Paul had to say.  Dickson falls into the trap of post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Third, Paul uses an entirely different word in his "sermon" to describe what he is doing.  In v.32 Paul says, "We tell you the good news (Gk. euangelizometha)...".  Paul and his companions are not at that point "exhorting" but "evangelising".  If Paul does offer any "exhortation" in this speech it is not through exegesis, but the proclamation that Jesus has fulfilled what was promised to their fathers through his resurrection (v.33).  Given these objections, we can conclude that Acts 13:15 does not offer support for equating parakaleo with preaching.

We now must consider the mission of Judas and Silas to the church in Antioch in Acts 15:31-32.  Dickson claims that the task of these two men was 'to read out the apostolic letter and then to speak to believers about it.  The word used for speaking is "exhorting"'.  Again, a number of problems exist with Dickson's exegesis.  First, in v.31 it is not Judas and Silas who give the encouragement (paraklesei) but the letter itself, as evidenced by the fact that the feminine singular form agrees with the word for 'letter' (epistolen) in v.30.  If v.31 had used didaskalia instead it would have fit Dickson's thesis much better.  Second, the encouragement (parekalesan) that Judas and Silas give to the Gentile Christians in v.32 seems not to come from their being interpreters of the text, but their role as prophets (whatever that might mean).  Again, Dickson assumes that the encouraging words spoken by these two men were connected with the text, but this does not have to be so.  In any case, the specific definition that I propose above for parakaleo of "passing on Comfort in Affliction" fits with the context and I believe can be accepted for this verse without difficulty.  Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there is nothing in Acts 15 to suggest that the letter concerned was either deliberately written or received as Holy Scripture.  And that's because, at that time and in that form, it wasn't.  It was simply a message from one group of Christians to another dealing with a question of legalistic observances and the implications for ongoing fellowship.  The Gentile Christians had had their faith knocked around by the legalism of the circumcision group (15:5).  They were probably feeling uncertain and unworthy of the Lord they had only recently come to embrace.  The message that the Jerusalem council sent to them was not to be a repository of authorised teaching, but a simple assurance that (given a few behaviour modifications to demonstrate that they no longer belonged to the culture of idol worship from which they had come) there was no barrier to their salvation.  I think that if you were to have suggested to the Jerusalem saints at that time that they were writing Scripture with an authority similar to the Law and Prophets they would have been horrified!  The letter was not composed to be "Scripture" nor is there any reason to suspect that it would have been received as such.  The words of the letter became the Word of God at a much later time when they were put into the context of Luke's account of the early Church.  This is not an isolated instance in the New Testament of written words becoming Scripture at a later date and context.  For example the written words above Jesus as he was crucified proclaiming him to be King Of The Jews (Jn 19:19-22) could not possibly have been viewed as Scripture in their original context, but when placed in the Fourth Gospel we see the Hand Of God at work.  Once again, when these factors are taken into consideration, we see no evidence in Acts 15:31-32 with equating parakaleo with expository preaching.

By the time we reach 1 Timothy 4:13, therefore, we see that the assumptions on which Dickson bases his appeal to this verse have already proved to be highly questionable.  He posits a logical connection between the three activities mentioned (Reading, Exhorting, and Teaching), which undoubtedly are all used in a specific sense. (p.14).  However, since I contend that Dickson can make no appeal to any other verse that teaches a logical connection between "reading" and "exhorting" there is no warrant for him making this assumption here.  Moreover, if such a logical connection did exist between the three activities, I would suggest that the word order would be slightly different and instead proceed "Teaching, Reading, and Encouraging".  With this word order, and assuming Dickson's definitions, the activities would easily flow from teaching the authorised message of Jesus TO reading the words concerning him in the Old Testament TO exegeting and applying these texts to show how they relate to the authorised message.  As the words stand, Dickson proposes a logical connection between the first and second activities but no logical connection between the second and third.  This is a very awkward reading.  I propose that it is much better to read the activities in this verse as a simple list of three Important, Related but Separate activities that Timothy is to be devoted to in Paul's absence.  If we read the verse in this manner (and I believe it is the most natural way to read it) then there is once again no connection between parakaleo and preaching sermons that can be found in this verse.


A key pillar of Dickson's argument in Hearing Her Voice is that the word used primarily in the New Testament for sermons based on an authoritative text is parakaleo rather than didasko and so the prohibition against women "teaching" in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not a legitimate barrier to them entering the pulpit.  From my examination of the key texts that he appeals to and in light of the use of general use of parakaleo in Scripture broadly and the specific use in the New Testament which is illuminated in 2 Corinthians 1, I can only conclude that Dickson's thesis on this point lacks solid support.  Moreover, his exegetical method contains a number of internal errors that would need to be addressed if his explanation of his key proof-texts could be accepted.  

Whatever we might say about "exhortation" in the Church, it is clear that equating it with the act of sermonising is not consistent with its true semantic range in the New Testament, which involves the encouragement of fellow Christians to persevere under duress or persecution, whether by word or action.  Much more work will need to be done on this topic to determine how both men and women might be better "exhorters" for the benefit of the whole Church.  However, one thing I am convinced of, is that the New Testament does not say that this includes allowing women to give sermons in the regular congregation.

Next time: an examination of Dickson's use of the verb didasko