Mutual Submission: Biblical or a Myth?

Tim Challies brings us another gem in his article on a consistently controversial yet vitally important subject. This post reminds us to shape our theology on a proper interpretation of the Word of God, not because of social pressure or political correctness.

“There is a lot of debate over how to take the command in Ephesians 5:18-21 to “Be filled with the Spirit … submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” How you interpret this text is, for many, the dividing line between being egalitarian or complementarian in their view of the roles of men and women in general and husbands and wives in particular.

The two main lines of interpretation are

1. “Submitting to one another” indicates mutual submission, which means that Spirit-filled Christians are to submit equally to one another without making hierarchical distinctions. This is the traditionally egalitarian interpretation.

2. “Submitting to one another” is a call to recognize the differing roles of authority that God has established in society and to submit appropriately to each one. This is the traditionally complementarian interpretation.

Peter O’Brien, in his excellent commentary on Ephesians, offers a helpful outline of the arguments behind each of these interpretations. Below is a summary of what he has written.

The first interpretation is often supported by the arguments that

1. Grammatically, Paul uses the verb “submit” in a form (the “middle/passive voice” for you Greek-ers) that softens its meaning so that it indicates a more voluntary, self-sacrificing kind of submission.

2. Paul adds the expression “to one another” after the verb to indicate the elimination of any idea of hierarchy in how we understand who is supposed to submit to whom. Submission is to be across horizontal lines, among equals.

The second interpretation is often supported by the arguments that

1. Wherever else the verb “submit” occurs in the New Testament, regardless of its form, it implies an ordered relationship in which one party is “over” and another “under.” And since the same understanding of “submit” fits well in Ephesians 5:21 and it’s context, there is no warrant to go beyond its usual semantic range and interpret it otherwise.

2. The expression “to one another” does not always indicate a fully reciprocal relationship in the New Testament (see Revelation 6:4 and Galatians 6:2, where the actions in view are not always two-way streets).

3. The flow of the argument—seen in how Paul moves immediately in 5:22-6:9 to spell out what submission looks between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters—illustrates that he sees a God-designed order in society for who ought to submit to whom.

O’Brien concludes that, “on grounds of semantics, syntax, and the flow of Paul’s argument we prefer the latter interpretation. The apostle is not speaking of mutualsubmission in the sense of a reciprocal subordination, but submission to those who are in authority over them.” You will not be surprised to learn that I find his argument compelling.”

Tim Challies, 01/23/2012, Posted at: http://www.challies.com/resources/mutual-submission

Women, Stop Submitting to Men

“Unpacking a controversial scripture.

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”

Quote Ephesians 5:22 in a small group, a meeting, a marital argument, a dinner among friends or even a Facebook status and just watch what happens. This little line from one of Paul’s many letters is perhaps one of the most hotly debated in all of Scripture. But why is it so controversial—and what does it really mean?

Those of us who hold to so-called “traditional gender roles” are often assumed to believe women should submit to men. This isn’t true. Indeed, a primary problem in our culture and in our churches isn’t that women aren’t submissive enough to men, but instead that they are far too submissive.

First of all, it just isn’t so that women are called to submit while men are not. In Scripture, every creature is called to submit, often in different ways and at different times. Children are to submit to their parents, although this is certainly a different sort of submission than that envisioned for marriage. Church members are to submit to faithful pastors (Heb. 13:17). All of us are to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Of course, we are all to submit, as creatures, to our God (James 4:7).

And, yes, wives are called to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22; 1 Peter 3:1-6). But that’s just the point. In the Bible, it is not that women, generally, are to submit to men, generally. Instead, “wives” are to submit “to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1).

Too often in our culture, women and girls are pressured to submit to men, as a category. This is the reason so many women, even feminist women, are consumed with what men, in general, think of them. This is the reason a woman’s value in our society, too often, is defined in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Is it any wonder that so many of our girls and women are destroyed by a predatory patriarchy that demeans the dignity and glory of what it means to be a woman?

Submitting to men in general renders it impossible to submit to one’s “own husband.” Submission to one’s husband means faithfulness to him, and to him alone, which means saying “no” to other suitors.

Submission to a right authority always means a corresponding refusal to submit to a false authority. Eve’s submission to the Serpent’s word meant she refused to submit to God’s. On the other hand, Mary’s submission to God’s word about the child within her meant she refused to submit to Herod’s. God repeatedly charges His Bride, the people of Israel, with a refusal to submit to Him because they have submitted to the advances of other lovers. The freedom of the Gospel means, the apostle tells us, that we “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Despite the promise of female empowerment in the present age, the sexual revolution has given us the reverse. Is it really an advance for women that the average high-school male has seen images of women sexually exploited and humiliated on the Internet? Is it really empowerment to have more and more women economically at the mercy of men who freely abandon them and their children, often with little legal recourse?

Is this really a “pro-woman” culture when restaurant chains enable men to pay to ogle women in tight T-shirts while they gobble down chicken wings? How likely is it that a woman with the attractiveness of Henry Kissinger will obtain power or celebrity status in American culture? What about the girl in your community pressured to perform sexual favors for a boyfriend; what is this but a patriarchy brutal enough for a Bronze Age warlord?

In the church it is little better. Too many of our girls and young women are tyrannized by the expectation to look a certain way, to weigh a certain amount, in order to gain the attention of “guys.”

Additionally, too many predatory men have crept in among us, all too willing to exploit young women by pretending to be “spiritual leaders” (2 Timothy 3:1-9; 2 Peter 2). Do not be deceived: a man who will use spiritual categories for carnal purposes is a man who cannot be trusted with fidelity, with provision, with protection, with the fatherhood of children. The same is true for a man who will not guard the moral sanctity of a woman not, or not yet, his wife.

We have empowered this pagan patriarchy. Fathers assume their responsibility to daughters in this regard starts and stops in walking a bride down an aisle at the end of the process. Pastors refuse to identify and call out spiritual impostors before it’s too late. And through it all we expect our girls and women to be submissive to men in general, rather than to one man in particular.

For women, sexual and emotional purity means a refusal to submit to “men,” in order to submit to God and to their own husband, even one whose name and face they do not yet know. Closeness with a husband, present or future, means a distance from every man who isn’t, or who possibly might not be, him.

Beauty is found not in external (and fleeting) youth and “attractiveness” but in the “hidden person of the heart” which “in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4). And it will be beautiful in the sight of a man who is propelled by the Spirit of this God.

Women owe no submission to Hollywood or to Madison Avenue, or to those who listen to them. Worth and dignity cannot be defined by them. Girls, stop comparing yourselves to supermodels and porn stars. Stop loathing your body, or your age. Stop feeling inferior to vaporous glamor. You are beautiful.

There is no biblical category for “boyfriend” or “lover,” and we owe such designation no submission. In fact, to be submissive to her future husband, a woman must stand back and evaluate, with rigid scrutiny, “Is this the one who is to come, or is there another?” That requires an emotional and physical distance until there is a lifelong covenant made, until she stands before one who is her “own husband.”

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as unto the Lord. Yes and Amen. But, women, stop submitting to men.”‘

-Dr. Russell Moore, read here: http://www.russellmoore.com/2011/12/05/women-stop-submitting-to-men/

The Mythology of the Magi (3) That “Star”

“With the OT background for the Magi that we examined yesterday, what help can also be found in the OT for the correct interpretation of the star? The supernatural character of this brightness is implied by being described as “his star” (Mt. 2:2). I suggest that this unique shining was the glory of God described so often in the OT as the visible manifestation of God’s presence (e.g., Ex.16:1024:16-1733:2240:34). Or it may have been a glorious angel!

The incarnation of the Son was a manifestation of God’s glory (“the glory of the Lord shone around them” Lk. 2:9; “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” Jn. 1:14). When we recognize this, it is easy to see how the choice of the word “star” was so appropriate to describe just such a supernatural and visible token seen only by a select number (the shepherds and the Magi). No wonder that “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Mt. 2:10).

A variation of this view is that the star was an angel, a view advocated in the patristic comments on this passage, and a view I develop in an academic article on this passage in the Tyndale Bulletin. Stars are often symbolic of angels elsewhere in Scripture (Job 38:7Isa. 14:12Rev. 1:209:1,212:4). That an angel also served to guide in the OT can be seen in the following passages that use language quite similar to Matthew’s (Exo. 14:1923:202332:34). There was, therefore, a wonderful point of contact with the Lukan Nativity because glorious angelic guidance was for both shepherds and the Magi (Luke 2:9-14).

This glory was the glory which the aged Simeon recognized as he held that baby in his arms (Lk. 2:32). This was that glory that shone through the earthly tabernacle of Jesus’ body on the mountain of transfiguration (2 Pet. 1:17John 1:14), and it is that glory with which He shall come in great power (Mt. 25:31). Jewish people refer to the glory of God as the Shekinah – a later Hebrew word whose root idea is the concept of “dwelling.” The supernatural Shekinah inspired the Magi and directed their steps to the young Messiah.

As we have seen from a close reading of Matthew 2, there is indeed a “mythology of the Magi” that embodies questionable ideas about these men. There is also, however, some marvelous theology for us to see in their visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem so long ago. We just need to look at the passage through the lens of the Hebrew Scriptures to see their real significance.

Download the free ebook, “The First Christmas,” from the Biblical Archaeological Society website. Read the chapter on the star by Dale Allison.

(The previous posts were freely adapted from my book, The Messiah: Revealed, Rejected, Received, which is available from AuthorHouse or on Amazon.com.)”

-Dr. William Varner, Complements of: http://dribex.tumblr.com/post/14061797845/the-mythology-of-the-magi-3-that-star

Mythology of the Magi (2)

“Yesterday we looked at a few myths surrounding the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus in Bethlehem. We questioned the ideas about the sources of their knowledge of the star and the “King of the Jews” as lying in astronomical phenomena or in astrological “signs.” What is an alternative explanation for their knowledge?

It is possible that the oracles of Balaam served as the source for their expectation of a Jewish king. Of the four oracles delivered by that fascinating man from beyond the Euphrates River (Num. 22:5), the last is most expressive: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…” (Num. 24:17). It is possible that the Magi from Persia had preserved the words of their “ancestor” Balaam and remembered his ancient prophecy when a “Star” did appear out of Jacob.

An even stronger source for the Magi’s scriptural knowledge comes from the Book of Daniel. In its Greek translation, one of the words translated “wise men” is the same as the Greek word used in Matthew 2 – magoi – ( 2:2,10,). These Magi in ancient Babylon served as a religious caste in the state religion. One of their functions was to interpret dreams — a role in which they failed miserably in Dan. 2:1-13. Note Dan. 2:13, “So the decree went out, and the wise men (Magi) were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them.” Therefore, Daniel and his three friends were associated with the Magi due to their God-given ability (Dan. 1:20-21). When Daniel accurately interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:17-45), he was rewarded with an even higher position among them: “Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men (Magi) of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48).

Consider also the amazing prophecy of the “seventy weeks” in Dan. 9:24-27. Verse 26 states that “Messiah (shall) be cut off” after a total period of 69 “sevens” (483 years). Therefore, Daniel’s book provides a timetable for the coming of the Messiah. This timetable from their leader must have been kept through the years by the Magi even after Babylon was conquered by the Persians.

There must have been a growing expectancy among the Magi as the years passed by. These Magi must have been watchful since the prophecy was originally given through one of “their own” many years before. Remember that a large Jewish community continued to exist in Babylon and Persia down through the centuries. They would have cherished Daniel’s prophecies and kept alive their hope.

Some have also suggested that one of the functions of the Magi was in the role ofking-makers. It was they who went through the ritual of crowning new kings in Babylon and Persia. This would also shed light on their desire to encounter the “King of the Jews” and to “worship him” (Mt. 2:2).

Now, what exactly was that “star” that led them? Come back tomorrow!”

-Dr. William Varner, Complements of: http://dribex.tumblr.com/post/14011189562/mythology-of-the-magi-2

The Mythology of the Magi

“The visit of the magi to the Child-Messiah, recorded in Matthew 2:1-12, is one of the most familiar biblical scenes to most Christians. The perception of this event has been unfortunately marred by a large number of popular misconceptions. Some of these derive from the popular song, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Consider the following list of erroneous assumptions about the wise men:

1. They were three in number.

2. They were kings.

3. They were from the Orient (i.e, the Far East).

4. They were named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.

5. One of them was a black man.

6. They visited the baby Jesus in a stable.

7. They followed an astrological or astronomical phenomenon to Bethlehem.

All of these ideas compose what might be called the mythology of the magi. Some of the misconceptions can be corrected by simply reading Matthew 2:1-12. Others can be dispelled by a logical reading of the text giving attention to its Jewish background.

The idea that there were three kings named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar dates from medieval times, as well as the idea that one of them was black. No number of magi is mentioned by Matthew, but the fact that they presented three different types of gifts (“gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” in 2:11) probably gave rise to the traditional number.

Also, they are not called kings, but magi — a special caste of religious men in Persia which we will examine later. Matthew 2:1-2 says that they were from “the east.” In modern times we might think of lands like the Far East, but that is not the way the term was used in biblical language. The “east” was a region beyond the Euphrates River. This would be the area of ancient Persia — today, the countries of Iran and eastern Iraq. This would also argue against the idea that one of them was black, although this is remotely possible if one of them came from as far as India. Their names, of course, are purely traditional.

Far more prevalent is the idea, perpetuated by millions of nativity scenes, that the magi were present with their camels along with the shepherds at the manger of the baby Jesus. This idea conflates Matthew with Luke’s account, particularly Luke 2:15-20, and is refuted by statements in Matthew 2:1-16. First, we read in Matthew 2:1, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.” Furthermore, Matthew 2:11 states, “And going into the house (not a stable or cave), they saw the child … (paidion in Greek, not brephos, the word for ‘infant’ in Lk. 2:1216).” Jesus could have been as much as two years old, since Herod ordered all the boys from two and under to be killed (Mt. 2:716). Whatever age Jesus was at this time, He was definitely not a baby in a manger. He was a young child living with his parents in Bethlehem before their flight into Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15).

Most think that the magi were astrologers who had discerned through their stargazing that the sign of a Jewish king had appeared and that he had been born somewhere in Israel. While the magi may have engaged in some form of astrology, it is difficult to comprehend how God would communicate His will through a means He had so strongly condemned (Deut. 18:9-14Isa. 47:12-14). If we allow for such a method of divine communication, how can we condemn the utilization of astrology for fortune telling today? Others suggest that the magi had observed some unique astronomical phenomenon — a comet, a supernova, or a planetary conjunction. The astronomer Kepler observed in 1603 A.D. an unusual conjunction of planets and found that in 6 B.C. there had been an unusual conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. Therefore, Kepler placed the nativity of Jesus at that time. Although this explanation has satisfied many, it does not explain the fact that the magi referred to “his star” (Mat. 2:2). Furthermore, it is difficult to comprehend how such an astronomical phenomenon could have moved to Bethlehem and how it “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was” (Mat. 2:9). If a comet had performed that feat, there would have been no house or town remaining from the heat!

Having evaluated some myths surrounding these interesting visitors, what can be concluded about their identity and their knowledge about the promised Jewish king? Furthermore, what was the nature of that wondrous “star” which prompted their long journey? There is no necessity to look beyond the sacred Hebrew Scriptures for a correct understanding of Matthew 2:1-11.

The next few days we will look at those Scriptures for some answers to these questions. Stay tuned!”

-Dr. William Varner, complements of: http://dribex.tumblr.com/post/13965409728/the-mythology-of-the-magi

Men of God

How we should be…

“And what manner of men will they be? Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be ‘fools for Christ’s sake’, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labour and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat. They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness ‘signs and wonders following’ in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.”

Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival, p. 16