Provisional or permanent? Contingent or comprehensive? When it comes to interpreting Scriptures your answer will likely forever pigeon-hole you pitching you into one camp or another. Increasingly the matter comes to the fore as the Scriptures become the sacred text upon which a person’s position may be used to maintain rank or power over another human being. Critics of this conclusion will quickly point out the aim is not always power and control. Easier said than demonstrated.
Jon Zens takes up the matter related to Paul and women in his book, What’s With Paul and Women: Unlocking the Cultural Background of 1 Timothy 2. Zens’ argument turns on the influence of the Cult of Aremis on the wider Ephesian culture and how that may have informed Paul’s instructions regarding women in the life of the local church there. Are Paul’s words provisional – for the particular context of Ephesus? Or, are Paul’s words comprehensive, for all time and all local churches?
In short, Zens believes Paul’s language indicates the instructions are intended to be provisional – for the local Christian community in Ephesus. Zen offers an accessible, even popular treatment of one possible way to understand an alternative to the more common, conservative approach to the chapter in particular and the question gender roles in particular.
Others have taken up the same material. In the series The Bible Speaks Today, John R. W. Stott refers to a particular study following the same general trajectory as a “tour de force” in his volume on 1 Timothy. But, Stott is unconvinced. He quotes J.I. Packer who contends gender roles remain a constant from Creation through Redemption into eternity. The great fear stems from what appears the normal “slippery slope” argument. That, if a person agrees a particular instruction is provisional, how then is it that all instructions are not provisional. The question begging to be answered then turns on other instructions, like men praying with lifted hands, that are certainly dismissed as contingent.
Zens draws attention to these very issues preferring his conclusion as consistent with an understanding of the cultural setting. He does not see the authority of Scripture questioned. The appendices offer supportive material as well as an engagement with Piper’s book on the subject of gender roles.
If the reader would like an introduction to the possible influences of the Cult of Artemis in Ephesus and how it may related to biblical interpretation, this would be a good place to start.
* I received a “review” copy of What’s With Paul and Women? from Ecclesiapress.com.