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:
3 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (parakleseos). 4 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. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort (paraklesis) also overflows. 6 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. 7 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