Kephalē in the New Testament: A survey

I backed out of writing this series about those biblical passages about women in ministry not too long ago. It wasn’t because the evidence is hard to find or interpret, but it was partly because I had so little hope of anybody listening. They’d agree, I assumed, if they already held an opinion that they saw me affirming, and they’d disagree if they saw me affirming a view they didn’t already hold. The evidence rarely seems to really matter on this issue. People will find a way – any way – to make it fit an ideology. What would be the point of writing about this? But here I am, venturing into that series.

After a cautionary introduction post on what I am about to do (which I insist you read before you read this blog post), this is the first of my blog explorations of the contentious biblical passages about men and women in the church. Any comments you make on this post or any posts in this series must conform to the guidelines I gave in that cautionary post. Talk about the evidence and the issue strictly defined by the blog post. That’s all I’m prepared to allow. Behave or I’ll kick you out. I’m deliberately being boring so as to discourage the elements that make this issue frustrating.

Why would I want to be boring? Here is why: You will probably have seen people who get caught up sharing exciting links on social media about scientific issues. Vaccines cause autism! The earth is flat! Homeopathy cures cancer! Climate change isn’t happening! Quoting what people have said, citing anecdotes, attributing evil motives, citing cultural or traditional pressure, complaining about vested interest – these are all the sorts of things that fly thick and fast in discussions about theories like these. What is less common is the boring approach of slowly, slowly, slowly checking every relevant piece of data. It is not sexy. It does not make for good Buzzfeed articles. But if you want to know what is true and what is false when it comes to the theories that should only be formed after the ponderous work has been done, this is how you do it. The boring way. I am going to write several blog posts about the meaning of one Greek word, kephalē. Fun times.

Alright. Here we go.

Continue reading “Kephalē in the New Testament: A survey”

THOSE Bible passages about women

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

I’m about to write about what the Bible says about men, women, and the church, and I do so with a sense of weariness at what might follow.

I have come to truly, truly hate the conversation among Christians about what the Bible says about the sexes and their roles (or lack of specific roles) in the church. I don’t say that about many conversations. People put their hand to the plow of biblical exegesis and then look back. Actually that’s possibly too kind – people put their hand to the plow of biblical exegesis as a gesture because they know that Christians are supposed to do biblical exegesis, but they are looking back the whole time. They are looking over their shoulder, away from the text and at the values they already hold. They are looking away from the text and at the world, fearful that they will look backwards or insufficiently progressive in the eyes of others. They cannot, at least as far as I can tell, make any distinction between “this is what I, a Christian person with my values, believe and is important to me” and “this is what this piece of text, external to me and written by somebody else, means.”

The Bible might convey things that you find offensive.

As an individual Christian person with your own beliefs, values and priorities, you must be willing and able – not just with your lips but with your actions – to reconcile yourself to the fact that when you are interpreting a piece of text, even a piece of text in the Bible, you might not agree with it. The Bible might convey things that you find offensive. You need to be willing and able to shut up, keep your voice out of it, and let the text speak even when it violently rides roughshod over what you would have said if you had been the author. Even when it sounds bigoted in your opinion. Even when it’s embarrassing. Shut up and listen. Continue reading “THOSE Bible passages about women”

With the spirit and with understanding: Tongues part 2

This is part two of a series on “speaking in tongues.” In part one I looked at the idea that there’s an angelic language, and those who speak in “tongues” might be speaking in the language of angels. There really wasn’t any good evidence that St Paul thought that way. However, most of what he wrote about speaking in other languages appears in 1 Corinthians 14, so that’s where we’re going to look in this article. I’m going to walk through part of that chapter here. Some people think that St Paul described speaking in tongues as the gift of speaking in a spiritual language that we do not understand, as a way of building ourselves up spiritually. Those who think this way, I maintain, need to read Paul a bit more carefully. Continue reading “With the spirit and with understanding: Tongues part 2”

Jesus never said ANYTHING about X!

Christians shouldn’t oppose X, because Jesus never said anything about X! Right?

With same-sex marriage being the topic of the day for a lot of “progressive Christians,” this is an argument I’ve seen lately. Since Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriage, Christians shouldn’t oppose it either. When I last saw it, I queried whether it was even true, but the same line was repeated back to me each time: Jesus said NOTHING about same-sex marriage (the capitals were used in the reply). Continue reading “Jesus never said ANYTHING about X!”

Why a Christian should accept a Divine Command Theory, part 1

If you’re a Christian, you should hold a divine command theory of ethics, and I’m going to tell you why.

As I’ve indicated before, I hold a Divine Command Theory of ethics. That’s the view (or family of views) in which what is right or wrong is what God commands (or forbids). I hold it tentatively in that I don’t think I have anything personally invested in holding this view. I don’t have to hold this view and I really would give it up if I thought the objections to it were any good. As best I can tell, they are not. I’m going to commit the philosophical sin of peering into other people’s motives, but I think that most non-religious criticisms of divine command ethics are really motivated by the critics’ rejection of religious beliefs, and since a divine command theory involves religious beliefs, it must be false (in the critic’s view). Continue reading “Why a Christian should accept a Divine Command Theory, part 1”

The Tongues of Men and Angels: Tongues part 1

“Speaking in tongues”? It may sound like gobbledygook, but some people think they are speaking in the language of angels, whatever that is. Are they right?

The last century (give or take a couple of decades) saw the birth of a new movement within Evangelicalism. The Pentecostal phenomenon is now ubiquitous in world Christianity, including within the mainstream churches (where it is more often called a “charismatic renewal,” with the term “Pentecostal” used to describe denominations marked by charismatic practice and theology). I have commented on some aspects of the movement before, in particular its belief in the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” I’m going to write a couple of articles on the distinctive Pentecostal / charismatic phenomenon of “speaking in tongues,” regarded with suspicion by some within the wider church, with amusement by those outside, but widely viewed as evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit by insiders. It seems all the more appropriate that I should publish the first instalment in this series today, on Pentecost Sunday! Continue reading “The Tongues of Men and Angels: Tongues part 1”

How not to foster healthy Christian discussions about politics

The Bible says not to be a selfish, hateful jerk. So you should be progressive, like me. Obvious, right? Well, no. Please stop. Sit down. We need to talk, because you’re hurting our ability to talk about politics in a constructive or loving way when you do that.

I don’t like the attempt to make Jesus into a gun-toting, welfare condemning, war-on-terror condoning hang-em-high Republican. That sort of cultural myopia is just cringeworthy. But if you’re going to condemn it, don’t go and do something just as cringeworthy by saying that to the extent that someone has an ounce of Christian virtue, they’re a left-wing liberal or progressive – just like you. Fundamentalism comes in more than one flavour.

Continue reading “How not to foster healthy Christian discussions about politics”

Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2

Does the Bible actually teach that souls live on when the body dies? Short story: no.

In part 1 of this series I looked at what the Bible does say about the mind-body question. You should read that before you read this post. In short, in Scripture there’s a fairly clear portrait of human beings as physical and mortal, returning to the earth when we die, and depending on the resurrection of the dead for any future life beyond the grave. The familiar view of human beings as immaterial souls that inhabit physical bodies and live on when the body dies is not one supported in the Bible.

But is it really that simple? The evidence we saw last time was surprisingly clear, but still, some Christian readers of Scripture are resistant to this message. There are some passages in the Bible – although not many – that seem to some Christians to suppose that actually human beings do not die when their bodies die, but they actually live on in non-material form. Their souls don’t die. Some passages of the Bible, some people think, teach dualism because they teach that the soul outlives the body.

Continue reading “Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2”

Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1

This might surprise some people, but embracing a biblical worldview gives us reasons to be mind-body materialists rather than dualists.

I first rejected mind-body dualism not because of any sort of scientific scepticism but because of what I started to see in the Bible when I started looking.1 For what it’s worth, I think other Christians should do the same. Continue reading “Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1”

  1. Specifically, I mean substance dualism, a view most clearly represented by the French philosopher René Descartes, or in classical thought by Plato. Materialism as a view of human beings is compatible with property dualism, with emergentism or with hylemorphism (in which a human being, like any other creature, is a compound of matter and form), in spite of the fact that the word dualism is used to describe each. The key is that these are views where the only substance involved is a physical substance. []