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


  1. Hey Luke,

    I think that John says in his book that the modern sermon doesn't fit any any specific category of gospel speech, but shares a relationship with all of them, including teaching. To me this makes sense given our historical/lingusitic/slavation history distance from the early church.

    What I think he does say, is that if we were going to put the sermon in a category, it would fit closer to exhorting rather than teaching, but this fit wouldn't be perfect given what was said above.

    If I'm right, I it's not quite right to suggest that he's equated semonising with exhorting.

    For what it's worth, it seems clear at least that the sermon doesn’t fit neatly into any of the public proclamation categories he pust forward, but shares a relationship with many.

    So the big question is, what is a sermon?
    Like you, I’m still wondering if there it has such a strong link with exhorting as he suggests. We’re quite a distance linguistically and historically from the New Testament, so we need to ‘interpret’ the scriptures, and make decisions about their meaning at some level in a way the 1st century exhorter wouldn’t have - hence the differences in doctrine and biblical interpretation amongst bible believing Christians. Does this impact on how we view the nature of a sermon? When we preach sermons, we also need to apply the apostolic deposit into new situations unforseen by the NT writers - how does this impact? Our sermons need to defend truth and refute error, perhaps something not done by the 1st century exhorter. What impact does that have on how we view the authority of a sermon? I guess in my mind, the explanation and application of a bible passage may involve the authority something akin to what Paul had in mind for teachers?

    So what would the apostle Paul say about sermons?We made need to approach the issue without a proof text, but need to be guided by the theological principle of male responsibility that Paul points to in 1 Timothy 2 and other places. What is a sermon and what sort of ‘authority’ does a person have when they preach a sermon? Is it more authoritative than a person giving a weighed prophecy or exhortation? or is it more like teaching? Of course there will be questions of how the number and types of sermons a person gives affects their ‘authority’ within a church, especially if we see authority as a relational rather than functional category – ie just because they preach doesn’t mean they automatically have authority.


    Alex Z

  2. Hi Alex,

    I like the way you're thinking! You've anticipated me somewhat in how I was intending to approach the 'teaching' language, but good to see that my thoughts are provoking the right sort of questions. Stay tuned!

    It's true that we don't see anything in the NT that even remotely looks like one of our "sermons". The historical context makes that impossible. In this respect Dickson is quite correct. But we still need to think theologically about what we do when we speak about the Bible for 25 minutes on a Sunday. What are the available categories of Word-based ministries presented in the NT and which seems to fit best with how our practice has evolved. We've traditionally (in Protestantism at least) equated this with "teaching". Dickson has presented a case for classifying it as a type of "exhorting". As I've outlined, I think there are some problems with that. I haven't yet said anything about what "teaching" is, but I shall be making the case that Dickson has mistakenly restricted the semantic range of this word and that I still believe it is the right general category to encompass what we now call preaching. As you implied, this is an area where we will need to think Theologically as well as Biblically? What are the doctrinal implications (Revelation, Scripture, Church, etc) that lead us to view preaching in this way? Big questions, still grappling with them!


  3. Dear Luke,
    As pleased as I am that you are engaging with the arguments of my small book, I am sorry you have gone to so much trouble, laboring under a number of false impressions of my case. I don’t so much feel I need to defend myself from your critique as show how you have misunderstood what I thought I was saying. Perhaps it is my lack of clarity; perhaps it is your rush to publicly dismiss my view. Either way, I hope I can allay your concerns with this reply.
    If I follow your piece correctly, you are saying that I equate Paul’s verb ‘to exhort’ with a contemporary exposition of a Bible text, a sermon. Then you seek to show that exhortation has a different meaning, all the way from the Septuagint to Paul, and that this as good as rules out my alleged suggestion.
    As your first commenter above points out, I make no such equation. In fact, I repeatedly say that the contemporary expository sermon has no direct parallel in Paul or the New Testament. The closest I come to saying what you say I say is that, if any New Testament word is an appropriate analogue for a modern sermon, it would be ‘exhortation’ (paraklesis/parakaleo). That is a rather different claim from the one you think I make, and I hope readers of both our arguments will share the observation.
    If I have not misunderstood you, I think there is also a logical problem with your piece. Even if I had tried to make the case that an ‘exposition of a text’ was called ‘exhortation’ in the New Testament, this wouldn’t for a moment mean I was saying that the word ‘exhortation’ means an ‘exposition of a text’. Do you see the problem? You have taken an argument about how a specific modern activity (sermon) might fit into a larger New Testament category (exhortation) and interpreted this as an argument that the larger category equals the specific. To offer an analogy: you have taken my claim that equestrian might be classified as a ‘sport’ as if this were an argument that ‘sport’ means equestrian.
    Statements from you like, “there is no indication here that heeding the words of Scripture and applying them is what is primarily on Paul's mind” or, worse, that “there is no reason to conclude that exhortation can be reduced to a talk following a Bible reading” seem wide of the mark. No one disputes that ‘exhortation’ in Paul can mean a form of speaking which urges people to action (1 Thess 2:3 among many others). And I am following no less a New Testament specialist than I. Howard Marshall in taking some of Paul’s instances of the term as referring to something analogous to our sermon with its reflection on Scripture leading to commands and encouragements. So, to be as clear as I can, my claim is only that of all the words the New Testament uses for Christian speaking, the one that has most resonance with what we do in a sermon is ‘exhorting’, closely followed by ‘prophesying’ and then perhaps ‘teaching’.
    In light of these broad observations, all your hard work trying to demonstrate other connotations for ‘exhorting’ or showing how rarely ‘exhorting’ refers specifically to a reflection on a written text seems unnecessary to me. Even your lovely reflection on the usage of ‘exhortation’ in 2 Cor 1:3-7 is irrelevant, unless by it you were trying to show that this usage means my usage can’t be right. That would be akin to saying that because rugby is a sport equestrian can’t be.
    Many thanks. Another comment is forthcoming.
    God bless,

  4. Dear Luke,
    My broad comments above are probably sufficient, but I do have some specific challenges of your critique, and it is January!
    You provide reasons to reject my suggestion that Paul’s synagogue speech in Acts 13 is an ‘exhortation’. The fact that it is a synagogue ruler who asks Paul for a “word of exhortation” following the Scripture reading is no argument at all. I would suggest that this is evidence that a speech following the readings could be called an ‘exhortation’ in the Jewish context out of which the church grew. Curiously, Heb 13:22 describes itself as a “word of exhortation” and it is precisely a series of reflections on a series of OT readings in a Jewish context.
    You then say that Paul does not in fact give an expository sermon in that synagogue. But I never said he did or that exhortation meant an expository sermon, only that a ‘word of exhortation’ in this setting “seems to be a public speech following a Scripture reading.”
    Your third point is that Paul in fact goes on to ‘evangelise’ instead of ‘exhort’. This is akin to suggesting that equestrian can’t be a sport because it looks nothing like rugby. I would simply say that the public speech of exhortation Paul delivers in this synagogue was a gospel message. This is no different from the way Paul could describe his ‘evangelism’ of the Thessalonians as ‘exhortation’ (1 Thess 2:3-4).
    Then there are your concerns about my comments on the apostolic letter of Acts 15. Were you suggesting I had made an error of Greek grammar when you pointed out that ‘exhortation’ in Acts 15:31 is feminine and so means the ‘letter’ as the source of encouragement? My argument is based on the use of the verb ‘exhort’ in the next verse. Luke is highlighting that the ‘exhortation’ of the letter was enhanced by the ‘exhorting’ of Judas and Silas. The use of the noun followed by the verb links the two activities (reading the letter and then speaking) more than you are happy to admit. We all make judgments about these things, of course. Yours is that the exhortation of the letter is not related to the exhortation the letter carriers provide in the next verse. Okay. Others will use their own judgment here.
    Your final specific critique concerns Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “devote yourself to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). Having dispensed with my first two “proof texts” you find no reason here to admit that ‘exhortation’ could be a reflection following a Scripture reading. First you say that the more logical word order—if Dickson were correct—would be teaching, reading and exhorting, that is, the message of Jesus, the reading of the Old Testament, and then exegesis and application of that text. I don’t get why you think this would be more logical (on my view). The order fits perfectly with what I argue. The Old Testament reading is listed first because it is the foundation of everything and is the tradition of the synagogue. Exhortation follows because all sorts of appeal, comfort, rebuke and so on can be made on the basis of the written Scripture. Teaching the apostolic deposit is mentioned last because it is the climactic activity and because it cannot be wholly equated either with ‘reading’ or ‘exhortation’. I don’t imagine this was the necessary chronological sequence in church services but it is a perfect logical sequence. As for your suggestion that I propose “no logical connection between the second and third” activities, I can only hope readers will explore for themselves what I say in the book about the close connections between ‘teaching’ and ‘exhortation’.
    In your conclusion you speak of the “number of internal errors” in my “exegetical method”. Even if I could accept your account of what I have argued, I don’t see ‘errors’, only differences in judgment. The fact that I hardly recognize my argument in your critique makes this conclusion very surprising.
    I want to thank you again for engaging me on this topic. I look forward to reading your thoughts on ‘teaching’ in the next installment.
    Every blessing,

  5. John,

    Several responses to your first post:

    1) It may only be a matter of degrees, but your first section comes Pretty Close with equating "preaching" with "exhorting", at least to the point where you could understand how readers MIGHT get that impression. For example on p.14 you say regarding preaching '...I cannot find any New Testament text that employs "to teach" in this way. 'Exhortation' seems to be the more apt term." And again on the same page, 'Given that we know Paul sees exhortation and teaching as different (Rom 12:6-8), if one of these two activities corresponds to a modern sermon - an explanation and application of a Bible passage - it surely has to be "exhortation"'. And again, "Why are sermons always to be thought of as teaching, when one might just as easily (more easily, in my view) equate them with what Paul calls exhortation?" This is the way that you describe the relationship between exhortation and sermons - Apt, Corresponds To, and More Easily Equated With. If the fault is mine (I don't think it is, but I haven't ruled out the possibility) then you might easily understand how I reached the conclusions that I did.

    2) Regarding general and specific categories, you have misunderstood my approach and made some assumptions of your own that lack warrant. To use the sporting analogy, there are a lot of Sports (rugby, tennis, equestrian, etc) and Non-Sports (reading, card games, walking the dog) in the world. What I reckon you've done is say that Reading is really a type of Rugby, when it really doesn't belong to that Category. I was clear that in both OT and NT there are a number of different ways that "exhortation" happens, some verbal and some non-verbal. Your argument is that at least some of what we call "sermons" and included them in the broad "exhortation" category without justification. In that light, my exegesis of 2 Cor 1 was perfectly justified. You accuse me of using this passage to say "because rugby is a sport equestrian can't be." Instead I'm saying because Sports have certain qualities about them even though they exist in different forms with different rules, no-one has ever described Reading using those qualities and so it can't be a Sport.

    More thoughts will follow later.


  6. Luke,
    Re 1: I think the quotations - and how I wish your blog had included them - are all the evidence I need. Others can judge.
    Re 2: I honestly don't follow what you've said, so it's hard to comment.
    God bless,

  7. John,

    Some more responses:

    1) It would be good if you could be clear and consistent on what "a word of exhortation" means in content as well as form. A definition like "a public speech after a Scripture reading" is too vague. If I stood up on Sunday after the Bible reading and talked for 25 minutes on why I think the Grateful Dead of 1974 was far superior to that of 1977, have I then 'exhorted' anyone? I'm pretty sure you would say that I haven't if I didn't refer at least partially to the Scripture reading and what it means. But if that is the case, then I fail to see why you insist on maintaining a distinction between "word of exhortation" and "expository sermon". There has got to be something else other than temporal sequence that connects the reading of Scripture with the 'speech' that comes after it. If there isn't, then why not let people just read their Bibles at home and the preacher can just say whatever "exhortation" that he/she feels like from week to week?

    2) I was not suggesting that you had made an error in exegesis in Acts 15:31-32. I was merely pointing out that the first "exhortation" the Gentile Christians received was not in the form of preaching by Judas and Silas, but the letter from the Jerusalem church. This means that a semantic shift occurs between v.31 and v.32 if your interpretation is correct. That is, of course, perfectly possible. However, I think that it is more natural to read the two modes of exhortation as separately following the one principle of Comfort In Affliction seen in 2 Cor 1 than having that of the ambassadors necessarily involving speaking about the letter.

    3) Regarding 1 Tim 4:13, I would have thought that the Gentile church would have considered the revelation of Christ as the "foundation of everything" including their approach to Scripture (as do we). As you say, it is a matter of judgment and speculation.

    4) The sporting analogies are imperfect. Let's just say what we mean in future and then we won't get so confused.


  8. Gents,
    The stakes are high when it comes to women and preaching, so you may think I'm focussing on the wrong thing here. But the flavour of this exchange for me is very passive-aggressive and pseudo-christian and I don't really think it's reflecting terribly well on either of you.
    Do you reckon you could both tone down the aggressiveness and dismissiveness a little ?
    Thanks, Tim

  9. First, Timothy. Wow, I wouldn't have picked that. Still, I'll take it as a friendly warning. Let me know how I do from here.
    Next, Luke, let me try answer your questions ...
    (1) What I mean by "word of exhortation" is vague because I think it is not a tight category but a broad one. You're right that your speech on the Grateful Dead wouldn't be called an exhortation by Paul. But in a Christian context I think lots of speeches would fall under the category. Everything from a simple 20min plea that people are more prayerful without any sustained explanation of Scripture, through to a tightly argued exegetical analysis of Isaiah 53:1-12 or Romans 1:18-32; and everything in between. I do not "insist on maintaining a distinction between 'word of exhortation' and 'expository sermon'." I reckon an expository sermon is one kind of speech that Paul probably would have called an 'exhortation'. I reckon he would also have described as a 'word of exhortation' that fabulous 15min talk Jane Tooher gave on modesty at the Priscilla and Aquila Conference. I wish she would come and preach at my church! However, Paul wouldn't have thought of either as 'teaching', even though both have much in common with teaching and are in fact based on the teaching.
    (2) Sure. I'm glad you cleared that up. Like I said, these things come down to questions of exegetical judgment.
    (3) Nope, I am quite sure Paul taught all his churches, Gentile or otherwise, that the Jesus tradition is the climax of the story of Israel found in the old covenant Scriptures. This is why the ancient church (and traditional ones today) always have OT reading before NT reading.
    (4) I quite liked my sporting analogies and I think I want to stand by them. You tried to oust one particular reading of exhortation in certain contexts by showing that in other contexts exhortation means something different. Given that 'exhortation' is a broad category, it seemed quite analogous to saying equestrian isn't a sport because rugby is a sport and these two activities don't look like each other. I still think that's a fair reading of your logic in this blog post. Others can judge. as you say.
    Finally, despite Timothy's comments, I am enjoying the exchange and think you're doing a fine job of not turning me into the devil. Given Mark Thompson's and Peter Bolt's disappointing initial salvos, examples of 'dog whistling', I think you're doing a terrific job. The other thing is: it gives me an opportunity to clarify, restate and explain in more detail. I appreciate it.
    God bless,

  10. I don't think that the tone has been particularly passive-aggressive either, but I too renew my intentions of good will.

    Thanks also for the clarification of "word of exhortation". That will help me be clear in my next post.

    Since you like the sporting analogy, I'm going to have another go at explaining what I mean in slightly simpler terms. You say that there is a particular a particular activity that is "equestrian" which classifies as a sport even though it doesn't look like rugby. I agree. But I also say that the examples you point to aren't "equestrian" but "a bloke riding a horse". We agree on what he is doing and how he is doing it, even agree that he involved in "equestrian activities". However, we disagree on the Category that his activity should fit under in these circumstances. I don't disagree that equestrian is a sport or that it exists. I think you've seen a bloke on a horse and decided on that basis that he must be involved in equestrian and so everybody who rides a horse must be doing equestrian. I have two basic objections. One, if you watched him closer you'd see that he's not really doing "sport" at all (e.g. he isn't trying to accumulate points or any of the other aims by which sports are defined in his context). Two, while some people in certain contexts might also be involved in equestrian, this is not true for all people who sit on a horse. There is racing, polo, herding cattle, and so forth. Moreover, you appear to be using the example of the guy just riding a horse to say that all people who look like they're herding cattle are really just doing equestrian (because who herds cattle on a horse anymore, what with helicopters and the internet and all...).


  11. OK, now you guys have forced me to buy John's book and read it.
    I hope you're happy with yourselves.

    Actually, this is an issue that appears without fail at Youthworks College each year, and it's about time I wrapped my head around it properly.

    Luke, I hope you don't mind me hijacking your conversation a little, but since you have John's attention, I thought this a perfect opportunity to ensure I am not mis-representing him.

    This is my ultra-laymen's outline of the first half of John's argument, that I plan to give to my students (as part of a list of the various arguments). John, is this right?

    1) The word "teaching" in 1 Tim 2:12 is a translation of the Greek word didasko.

    2) Pauls use of didasko (15 verses by my count) seems to have two types of meaning.
    (a) At times he simply means "teaching" in the generic sense (eg Rom 2:21).
    (b) At other times, though, he uses it in a technical sense as a form of speaking to people about God that is different to other kinds of speaking to people about God. For instance, in Romans 12, he talks about propheteia (prophecy) and parakaleo (exhortation) in a way that suggests that they are different kinds of speaking about God to people.

    3) Paul's use of didasko in 1 Tim 2:12 is more likely (definately?) to be the second meaning - the technical one - than the first.

    4) Thus, the text of 1 Tim 2:12 is saying that women should not engage in didasko, but has nothing to say about propheteia or parakleo.

    5) Other parts of the NT demonstrate that women may engage in propheteia and parakaleo.

    6) Thus the two questions are:
    (a) what is didasko and how is it different from propheteia and parakaleo?
    (b) what practices of the modern church equate to didasko rather than propheteia and parakaleo and hence are inappropriate for women?

    This becomes an issue of detailed word studies, hence John and Luke's stimulating discussion.


  12. Mike,
    Thanks. I'm struggling to keep up with all the questions over the Internet, so forgive me for being brief.
    1. Yes.
    2. (a) Yes, but I don't think Rom 2:21 is an example for the reasons I explain in my Comments to Luke and in the book itself. (b) Yes.
    3. Almost certainly, yes.
    4. Not much to say about prophesying and exhorting - only that Paul was a complementarian and so whatever we say about the other two activities it ought to reflect Paul's complementarian outlook.
    5. Certainly, prophesying. No restriction is laid down for exhorting.
    6. (a) You need to read the book but basically it means laying doing the apostolic deposit; (b) That's for others to work out for themselves. Some sermons may be close analogies to laying down the apostolic deposit, others less so.
    I don't think it's got much to do with detailed word studies. It's just a simple observation from Paul's writings that he uses 'teaching' in a particular way and then tells us in Rom 12:6-8 that 'teaching' ain't 'prophesying' or 'exhorting'.
    I hope that helps.
    God bless,

  13. Luke,
    Thanks for continuing the sporting analogy. I don't really follow your analogy because you don't actually connect the analogue to the issues. That said, I'm sure it coheres with what you've said in the blog so I'll happily let our two statements and their analogies stand for others to read.
    God bless, and thanks again.

  14. Luke and John,

    Thank you so much for this discourse and John, many thanks for the book. As a layman without any knowledge of Greek, I have truly appreciated the discussion as it has helped me come to grips with the issues involved. I worship in an Anglican church in Western Sydney with many godly and gifted women, both lay and ordained, within our church family. They are never permitted to preach, however neither do they ever lead services nor lead mixed bible studies. This extends to the men and women being separated (and this includes husbands and wives) at our parish bible study. It was stated from the pulpit last year that for a woman to preach to a mixed congregation is a sin. The ministry of women is severely limited on the basis that there might be some teaching component in these tasks from which they are excluded. I have never seen this to be quite in line with New Testament church practice where woman clearly had substantial leadership roles. Thank you both again, as I can now see more clearly just where both sides are coming from on this issue and it has helped me to clarify my own thinking. God bless you both and may we all seek His truth in this matter.


  15. Hi Luke, while I’m not convinced by John’s definition of parakaleo, I’m not convinced by yours, either. You are arguing that John’s is too broad (which gives reason for him to have a very narrow definition of didasko) but I think you are too narrow.

    I would like to preface this by saying that I think the definition of parakaleo has limited value in defining didasko. Partly because the nature of overlapping semantic fields means that you cannot say “anything that is parakaleo must therefore not be didasko”, and equally because you cannot say “anything that is not parakaleo must therefore be didasko”. We do need to be careful that a two-word dichotomy (that this discussion is in danger of creating) does not lead to the illusion that, by shrinking the definition of parakaleo, we have thus expanded the definition of didasko.

    Having said that, Paul’s use of didasko and parakaleo as two different roles within the body does strongly suggest that there are core meanings in each of the words (or his usage of the words) that point to different activities. However, I think that those core meanings are not identified by first defining one word and then the other in contrast to it, but by defining both and understanding the breadth of their semantic ranges, and then comparing them.

    So for this exercise in understanding the semantic range of parakaleo, while John has created a definition that is wide – very very wide – I think you have created a definition that is too narrow.

    To my reading, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 does not provide a definition of parakaleo. Instead, it is an example of one of the common uses of the word, but does not preclude a wider semantic range. I think it is very hard to prove that the semantic range of a word is narrower than other people think, because it requires proof that a word is not used to mean something. You engaged with some of John’s passages that he uses for his semantic range (and convinced me to a degree that those passages are not good evidence for John’s thesis), but that is not the same as establishing a narrow semantic range.

    My big question is how you engage with Hebrews: a book of detailed exegetical preaching that calls itself a book of exhortation (parakalesis, Heb 13:22). Of anything, this book seems to be the closes thing to a modern sermon – exegesis (although not quite following our conventions), explanation, application etc.

  16. As a second point, I am a poor theologian (which is ironic since I teach theology) because I am less interested in understanding what a scholar has said, and more in what the actual truth is. So I happily steal stuff from scholars if I think it is right, but am less interested in whether I got that scholar’s views right in the first place (I’m sure I have taken thoughts from Barth that Barth would not recognise, but I think match the bible very nicely). So, while it is an important exercise to come to an agreement with John that the way that you are expressing his argument is accurate, I’m more keen to press the definition of parakaleo and didasko themselves.

    Can I encourage you to put up another post that is less focussed on Johns’ definitions as you read them, and more focussed on a tabula rasa definition of parakaleo as you see it?

  17. Gentlemen, this is a most entertaining discussion. But as a minister of the Gospel, I would like to point out something that heretowith has not been approached. The issue of women's ability and right to preach is abrogated by Paul's telling us that women are not to have authority over men. The context of course is spiritual authority. This is derived from two places.

    1) Paul's reflection of the created order and the function of women in the divine construct of the family that it reflects.

    2) The issue of the Keys of the Kingdom from Matthew 16 which is given to apostles (and elders) to bind and loosen the consciences of people in the function of their office. This has to do with spiritual authority.

    When elders speak about spiritual things to a member of a congregation, there is the understanding that loving obedience is required of them or face discipline (all within the various steps of love and concern with a view to restoration). The pulpit is the place wherein the one who stands there is "the mouthpiece of God". In exegeting the Scriptures and exhorting people to obedience to the Word, there is the implication of obedience with consequences: either blessing or discipline.

    How can a woman preacher have "spiritual authority" over a man when she is in the pulpit? How can anything she says ever be more that just "pious advice". If I sit in the pew and listen to God's word being faithfully proclaimed, then am I not to assume that any teaching or exhortation has no authority or that obedience is implied or expected?

    If I go to a bible study led by a woman preacher with all her credentials and ecclesiastical titles...am I to assume that as she exhorts me to do something, I must obey her? What is that theological basis for her authority from the Scriptures if the Scripture never apply the keys of the Kingdom to her or allow her the role of spiritual oversight over men?

    It all comes down to a matter of function. The Trinity in their ontology are all equal with each other in every matter. But in their economy and in relation to the cosmos, the Father is over the Son and the Spirit proceeds from them both. In the family a husband, wife and kids are all equal in Christ, but in the home the wife submits to her husband with respect, the husband is her and the children's head. In the Church, Jesus is the head, the elders give oversight to the members...but all are again equal in Christ Jesus. This is an issue of function and God's direction of where women fit in ministry. They are allowed into all other ministry aspects except those which involving authority and the exercising of discipline.

  18. Hi Matt,

    I think your experience shows why this discussion is important to have. Too often evangelical churches seem to fall into Phariseeism on this issue because of not wanting to cross the principle of 1 Tim 2:12 but in the process limit the ministry of our Sisters that seems to be plainly allowed in the New Testament. I have heard of cases overseas where this has extended to not letting a woman lead singing or praying because there might be some "accidental teaching". I think that John and I both agree that, whatever 1 Tim 2:12 means, it is referring to a particular role in the life of a congregation and the theological underpinnings do not necessarily transfer across to other acts of service, including other Word ministries. Perhaps all the recent discussion will help at least break some of the logjam.


  19. Hi Mike,

    A few thoughts...

    First, it is not my intention to use my survey of parakaleo in order to "define didasko". I intend to treat each of these on its own merits. You'll notice that at no point do I say that because I don't believe a "word of encouragement" has a parallel with a modern "sermon" that I am assuming that "teaching" automatically has that parallel. John makes some very accurate and important observations about the use of didasko in the Pauline epistles. I also freely admit that there is nothing in the New Testament, not even the "sermons" of Jesus, that perfectly correspond to what happens in our church on Sundays. The definition and function of a "sermon" for the Church is not as easy to define Biblically as you would expect, so I intend to approach the subject very carefully.

    Second, you'll also notice that my intention was not to argue for a "narrow" semantic range of parkaleo in the New Testament - indeed I included various examples of the different way this word group is used and I don't think we can ignore any of them. Beware of confusing "narrow" with "specific" use. Both John and I agree that when Paul uses parakaleo in passages like Rom 12:6-8 he is using it in a way that particularly applies to the building up of the Church. This is not denying that a more "general" use exists (indeed, this use might help us understand the specific), but that a Christian might have particular ways of "exhorting" fellow believers that will not apply to the outside world. In this context, 2 Cor 1 I think is a very important source of our understanding of the specific use. It doesn't say everything there is to say, but I think that it provides as good a foundation for our understanding as we're likely to find. Yes, it would be good to tease that lexeme out a bit further. I'll have to think about whether I want to expand my remarks or leave it for someone who is in fact better at NT exegesis than me.

    With respect to Hebrews, I treat it the way I would any other piece of Scripture - as part of the Word through which God makes Himself known. It might have been a "sermon" at some place and in some context, but it is not one that is "to me". It is however "for me" in that through it God wishes me to know Him. I'm sure it gave great exhortation to those who first heard/read it and many people after that, but that was not its ultimate goal - that through the Living Word on the page we might know the Living Word who reigns at the right hand of the Father. And it is at this point, when assessing what a "sermon" is for the Church, that we must think Theologically and not merely Biblically.


  20. Hi Scott,

    While I agree with you that the created order issue in 1 Tim 2 can't be ignored, I'm not sure whether extending that to Matt 16 is legitimate. Jesus' giving of the keys does not seem based on Peter's eldership or his masculinity, but his confession. Moreover, that line of argument leads us into a definition of ecclesiastical offices that I'm not sure can be sustained.

    Also, the NT does not say that women should never have authority over men. Authority is not inherent in masculinity - the ultimate authority over the church remains with God and is not "delegated" to men exclusively. I am perfectly happy for a woman to "lead" me in reading the Scriptures, singing, prayer, words of encouragement, ministries of evangelism and mercy, and many other contexts. However, there appears to be a particular restriction on the leadership of women in 1 Tim 2:12 and it is important to think this through again with as much love and respect as we can. If we treat it as a general injucture against women holding any kind of Word ministry in the Church then we will be in danger of ignoring a whole swag of the NT which teaches otherwise.

    I'll be posting on my views on the nature of "teaching" and its theological implications soon.


  21. Dear all,
    I just want to explain something that is seemingly unclear in the above discussion. In linguistics there is a thing called a 'technical' usage of word. This is where a particular word with a general meaning is used in specific contexts with a rather narrow meaning. The most obvious example is 'gospel'. This word does not mean "the good news about Jesus"; it just means 'grand news', and is used in a variety of ways, even in the Bible. However, it is also used with a technical meaning, where it is shorthand for the news about Jesus - his life, death and resurrection. If I were to say that 'gospel' in certain contexts means the news about Jesus, I am not denying that it can also have a broad meaning in other contexts. This general point is true of many words in the New Testament (and loads of other literature). Let me apply it to 'exhort'. This word basically means 'to appeal' to someone about something. This general meaning, however, is focused in certain contexts. Sometimes it refers to giving comfort, other times it refers urging others to do something, other times it is short hand for a discourse designed to convince. When I say 'exhort' has a particular meaning in a certain context, this is not a claim that it does not, at its core, have a more basic meaning and, therefore, can be used rather differently in other contexts. The same is true of 'teaching'. This word basically just means 'to convey information from one to another'. But this doesn't for a second mean that in all contexts that is ALL that it means. Words have 'technical' applications. In the Pastoral Epistles, for example, this word doesn't just mean to convey information; it means to convey the apostolic deposit (the oral traditions the apostles laid down for churches to believe). Arguing this way is based entirely on how the words are used in that context. It does not involve the claim that in other contexts it must also have this precise meaning. No. There is a general and a technical meaning of many words.
    Much of the discussion above seems not to acknowledge this linguistic reality.
    Thanks for the ongoing interest.
    God bless,

  22. Hey, Luke. By the way, what's with the time indications in the comments? I can assure you I didn't post my comment at 3:56AM.

  23. Hi John,

    I'll try to fix the time thing if I can.


  24. John, I just assumed you were doing a 'Con Campbell' and posting rather than sleeping like normal people...

  25. Pity there's not a 'Like' button here!

  26. John, I understand your meaning about the technical usage, and you are right, I have been imprecise in how I have engaged with your point. But there lies the problem of how to identify what that usage is within the various uses of the word within the NT. We cannot point to a few verses and claim that they are examples of a technical use, and hence that is the technical use to use. What prevents another reader from pointing at other verses as the archetype of the technical meaning? Luke and I could point to alternative passages for parakaleo (2 Cor for him, Heb for me), and argue that they reveal the definition of a technical usage.

  27. Luke, I don't think you can pass by Hebrews so easily. Just because it is now inscripturated does not mean that we can ignore its original form and intention. Most particularly, we cannot ignore that it was a form of address that the original author describes as parakalesis. To use John's language, surely this is a strong sign pointing towards part of the technical usage of parakaleo in the early church? .

    This is what I meant when I said that I think there still needs to be work done on parakaleo - demonstrating and defining what the technical usage of parakaleo is and isn't. If there are technical meanings of parakaleo and didasko that are different roles in the church, then I think it is very important to grasp where Hebrews fits into that spectrum.

  28. Hi Luke & Mike

    I want to support Mike's last comment re Hebrews. The writer to the Hebrews calls his most sermon-like letter a "word of exhortation". It may be true that we receive that word differently now that it sits within the canon of Scripture. But when we go to it to help us in understanding what 'parakaleo' means, we must read it as originally intended and understood.


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  30. Tim
    I think you mistake vigorous and respectful debate for sub-Christian behaviour. While it's always good to be encouraged to examine our behaviour (in this instance, the way we speak to one another), in my view the tone of this discussion, especially between Luke and John, has been exemplary.

  31. John,

    It seems to me that Luke's charge of 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' [sorry, can't remember how to do italics!] with regard to your exegesis of Acts 15:31-32 has some validity. In v31 the 'encouragement' clearly comes simply from the reading of the letter. In v32 the 'encouraging' that Judas and Silas engage in MIGHT arise directly from the letter, but there is nothing in the text to suggest this (other than the fact that v32 comes straight after v31) and v33 may well suggest that the encouragement continued over an undefined period which would make it hard to maintain a strong connection between the encouragement that Judas and Silas offered and the text of the letter.

    I'll offer some more general comments in a separate post.


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  33. [Edited due to an error when previously posted]


    You wrote:
    It may only be a matter of degrees, but your [i.e., John's] first section comes Pretty Close with equating "preaching" with "exhorting", at least to the point where you could understand how readers MIGHT get that impression. For example on p.14 you say regarding preaching '...I cannot find any New Testament text that employs "to teach" in this way. 'Exhortation' seems to be the more apt term." And again on the same page, 'Given that we know Paul sees exhortation and teaching as different (Rom 12:6-8), if one of these two activities corresponds to a modern sermon - an explanation and application of a Bible passage - it surely has to be "exhortation"'. And again, "Why are sermons always to be thought of as teaching, when one might just as easily (more easily, in my view) equate them with what Paul calls exhortation?" This is the way that you describe the relationship between exhortation and sermons - Apt, Corresponds To, and More Easily Equated With. If the fault is mine (I don't think it is, but I haven't ruled out the possibility) then you might easily understand how I reached the conclusions that I did.

    All three quotes that you cite are exercises in comparison. John's argument is: if A is thought to equate to B, then it more readily equates to C. The logic of the argument does not extend to say that A therefore actually does equate to C, only that it is a closer fit than B. To draw that conclusion is in fact a logical fallacy - something which you have come 'pretty close to' in this instance. :-)



  34. "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."

    Why is that?