Editor's Note – All this week Gender Blog will post a five-part review of Scot McKnight's "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible" by Dr. Thomas Schreiner. Dr. Schreiner has been the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1997 and also serves as the Associate Dean of Scripture and Interpretation. Dr. Schreiner is also a member of the Board of Reference for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
So, how do we apply the Bible today once we recognize that the Bible is fundamentally a story? Most of us agree that there are many things in the scriptures that are no longer required. Prohibitions against tattoos, wearing garments with two kinds of material, eating meat with blood in it, etc. are not considered normative by most Christians today. Naturally there are disagreements, but the fundamental issue says McKnight is discernment. We discern in many instances that a command is no longer normative for us because "that was then, but this is now" (p. 117). McKnight returns to the issue of how we selectively apply what the Bible says, noting that we do not even do all that Jesus commands. Hence, we must all admit that we decide which parts of the Bible apply to us by discerning in the community of faith what is still normative. Naturally there are different opinions on some issues. When it comes to women preaching and the participation of gays and lesbians (which McKnight puts in "the grey and fuzzy area," p. 131) we need to avoid "seeing the Bible as a law book" (p. 131). The situation is messier than that according to McKnight.
McKnight proceeds to other examples. How do we apply the scriptural teaching on divorce and remarriage? Paul himself had to discern what Jesus taught on divorce in a new situation, and he added an exception not found in the teaching of Jesus. In the same way, the early church had to decide on circumcision. The OT clearly required it, but the church through a "pattern of discernment" (p. 134), as it was led by the Spirit, determined circumcision was no longer demanded. Similarly, very few Christians today follow what Peter and Paul commanded about women not wearing jewelry and expensive clothing. In fact, women today often wear expensive jewelry and dazzling clothing to church. The Bible teaches an earth-centered cosmology, but we now realize through our growth in scientific knowledge that the sun is the center of the solar system. McKnight also takes up the issues of capital punishment and tongues. Acknowledging that the former is quite difficult, he inclines to the view that it should no longer be practiced for theological, legal, social, and historical reasons. There were some periods of church history that suggested that tongues were passé, but now we live in a period where tongues are widely accepted as real.
The remainder of the book takes up women in ministry as a case study. One of the features that makes this book interesting is its autobiographical tone. McKnight regrets that he did not stand up for women in ministry while teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is clearly a strong advocate now for all ministry roles being open to women. In reading the scriptures we need to recognize, says McKnight, that it was written in a patriarchal world by men, and their perspective shaped what was written, even though it was God's will at that time for men to write the scriptures. Despite the male-centeredness of scripture, Genesis 1-2 teaches the mutuality and equality of men and women. The attempt to dominate and rule over one another is evident in Genesis 3:16, but this text can hardly function as a prescription for today since it reflects the fall rather than creation. So, McKnight wonders how complementarians can appeal to the fall to support restrictions on women (p. 189) instead of focusing on the new creation inaugurated by Jesus.
According to McKnight, the key texts for discerning whether women should have all ministry roles open to them are those which describe what women actually did in the OT and the NT. Since women functioned as prophets, apostles, teachers, and leaders, the texts that appear to prohibit such should not be accepted as timeless advice for today. For instance, Miriam was a prophet and a leader. Deborah functioned as a judge, prophet, and a mother in Israel, so she was a spiritual, military, and political leader. Huldah spoke the word of the Lord as a prophet, and Esther ruled as a queen. The dawning of the new creation in the ministry of Jesus represents a leap forward for women in ministry. In the new age of the Spirit there will be even more female prophets (Acts 2:17). And women did not only function as prophets; they were also apostles, as the example of Junia shows (Romans 16:7). Phoebe occupied the office of deacon (Romans 16:1-2), which likely had leadership dimensions. Priscilla taught Apollos (Acts 18:26), and hence functioned as a teacher and a theologian.
What about texts that limit women in ministry? The requirement that women be silent (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) is not a word for all time, for elsewhere Paul commends women for speaking. Hence, McKnight thinks the restriction was a temporary measure due to disturbances in the Corinthian church. The prohibition against women teaching in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 has a cultural component. Paul likely responds to new Roman women who were arguing for male subordination to women and who dressed in sexually provocative ways. What Paul emphasizes here is that women should learn before teaching, and so the restrictions on women teaching are temporary and are to be lifted once women are educated. The storyline of the Bible as a whole, and the examples of what women did in the scriptures lead McKnight to the conclusion that all ministry roles should be opened to women.
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