Over and over, I hear versions of the following statement: “Just because our modern culture and society widely accepts something doesn’t make it right. The Bible clearly states [fill in the blank], and the Bible is the final authority, regardless of what society today thinks is okay. This day and age continues to blur the lines of what is and is not biblically acceptable, and we have to stand against the idea that today’s culture defines what is and is not right in the eyes of the Lord while we pick and choose which Scriptures to accept and which ones to reject.”
With that, I emphatically agree. Going against God’s Word is sinful—timelessly so—and sin remains sin, no matter what the world says or what “enlightenment” season we live in.
Let me say this again in different words, since I anticipate being quoted as saying otherwise: Today’s culture, societal tolerances, ministry trends, and social movements have absolutely no bearing on what the Word says is righteous or true.
If it did, even on the most marginal level, then the Bible’s final word on each category of righteous living would fall flat, because the disintegration of one foundational piece will eventually serve to crumble the whole. For example, lying is not considered a big deal today. Sometimes, lying is seen as the “only way out” or a “lesser evil.” There are a million reasons to lie, from avoiding hurting someone’s feelings to protecting a loved one, and so on.
Case in point: Just the other day, Broken for Good (a Christian music group I’m involved with) was performing at a community event, and during our break, my daughter—who was present at our gig under the watchful eye of a trusted sitter—approached me wanting the same bag of popcorn many of the other kids had. Because I was now with my kids at the break, the sitter was looking to me for an answer. I didn’t know where the other children were getting the popcorn, and I couldn’t leave the stage for more than a few minutes, so I told her no. (I’m one of “those” moms. I almost never let my kids out of my sight when we’re away from home. Even during the performance, I kept my eyes locked on them the entire time.)
Just then, a man who had overheard my conversation hollered for his teenage daughter and, without asking for my input, told her to take my kids down the block for a free bag of popcorn. The girl agreed, told my kids to follow her, and started walking away, at which point my kids looked at me pleadingly. I was in a strange position. Putting a halt to the popcorn entourage could have made that young girl or her father feel awkward, as well as let my own kids down. On the other hand, I would never trust a complete stranger to take my children down the block amidst crowds of other complete strangers, whether my sitter was with them or not, simply because there were droves of people and I had no reason to think they couldn’t be snatched when a head was turned. Another acquaintance of mine—a Christian—saw my hesitation and said, “Just tell them your kids are allergic to butter or something!”
That would have been a lie. On the other hand, my kids would be protected. On the other hand… On the other hand…
There are many reasons our society would justify a lie. Telling that man and his teenager that my kids had allergies or that the popcorn was the issue in any way would have been, by the very definition of the word, a falsehood. It simply isn’t true. But I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad, so I shrugged and said, “Let’s all go! But we have to hurry.” Had I not been put on the spot, I simply would have kindly explained to the man that I didn’t think my kids needed it and the issue would have been dropped, but I had only seconds to react. My choices, as they appeared in my head at the moment, were: 1) lie, which the Bible forbids; 2) tell the man and his daughter I didn’t trust them; or 3) go with them all and hope I made it back in time (which I thankfully did).
Even though almost every person I know—Christian or otherwise—would have found the “allergies” lie acceptable (if not completely ridiculous and desperate), it doesn’t make it right. Yet, my friend didn’t hesitate in defaulting to a lie as the instant and obvious solution, which speaks volumes for how a “white lie” is customary within our culture today, even within the most conservative circles. Today’s culture is not the final authority on what is or isn’t wrong. A lie is still immoral. Modern toleration of dishonesty when it appears to be the “only way out” or the “lesser evil” doesn’t bear any weight on the discussion of whether or not it’s clearly outlined as a forbidden sin in the Bible. Further, what one generation tolerates in moderation, the next generation tolerates in excess, so if a contemporary “white lie” is satisfactory behavior for our current generation, a “big, fat lie” will be fine tomorrow…and the disintegration of one foundational piece serves to crumble the whole.
So for those who say, “You can’t just assume that Scripture no longer applies, because our culture today is different,” I agree as heartily as a human possibly can. Let’s take today’s culture out of the equation permanently, please. Let us forever respect what Paul said when he wrote, “And be not conformed to this world…that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
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THEOLOGIAN: JESUS HIMSELF STARTED THE FIRST WOMEN’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT
However—and this is crucial—the society and culture at the time the Bible was written has everything to do with what the Bible commands of believers. Knowing what the Bible says is not the same thing as knowing what the Bible means!
If the Bible says women shouldn’t speak in the Church, then that’s what it says. We as believers cannot pick and choose what we want to believe from Scripture and ignore the rest.
But it also says—and by the same author, I might add (Paul)—that women shouldn’t wear braids in their hair in church, or pearls, or gold, or expensive clothing (1 Timothy 2:9). Yet the Church has no problem writing that one off as a “cultural issue,” or correctly interpreting it as the command that women should attend services in reverence, modesty, and humility. (More precise reflection on this verse later.) Many today may rail against women preachers, speakers, teachers, and prophets, but some of these same ministers could care less if their wives come to church with their hair in a pretty braid. Why? Because they will accept the “cultural issue” argument when it suits them and dismiss it when it doesn’t. Essentially, they are, as I stated before, “picking and choosing what they want to believe from Scripture and ignoring (or improperly applying) the rest.”
In this, they become guilty of the very grievance they’re preaching against.
Let me make one thing very clear: I do not believe that all these ministers are intentionally trying to squelch women. I am not a feminist, I don’t participate in women’s lib movements, and I don’t think men are “the enemy.” I love my husband and obey him consistently. I submit to him. I am ardently grateful for male ministers and the essential role they have played, still play, and will continue to play in the Church. By no means do I intend to “liberate women from male oppression” or any such nonsense. Some of the ministers preaching this very sermon against women leaders in the Church are doing so out of obedience: kindly, respectfully, and reassuringly. (Others are not so kind in their approach, but in my experience, they are exceptions. More often, the “berating” response comes from men [and sometimes women] who are not in leadership.)
Feminism has, throughout recent decades, caused extreme harm to the concept of equality. What may have begun in its genesis movement as equal rights for women in politics, religion, economics, and social norms has gone beyond anything that benefits the female gender. As it exists today, feminism teaches that in order for a woman to be equal to a man, she must believe men are beneath her and spread the word that men are less intelligent than she is, that she is the superior sex, and that a chief goal among most men is to reduce women to little more than slaves. The only way to achieve true equality, feminism imparts, is for women to act like men and tower above them in the process.
Ironically, this quest for impartiality serves only to forcibly shove men into an inferior position, canceling out equality by default, and disintegrates the feminine and graceful nature that brought balance to the goal of equality in the first place. The answer to what some people view as domination cannot be found in dominating the other.
Though many voices are competing to devalue or eliminate the internal nurturer in every woman, replacing it with an authoritarian aggressor, the result is a degeneration of that which was innately female from the start. The justice that modern feminism fights for results in extreme injustice and subsequent entrapment for those in the fight. In the very moment womanhood is traded for manhood—in the battle to prove we are all one and the same in our abilities, influences, and intrinsic value—the new paradigm becomes, paradoxically, anti-woman. The journey toward “sameness” negates the creation order that God originally designed. Men and women will never be “the same.” If they were, then a woman would not be able to offer anything a man could not, and that precious stabilization of the proverbial scales of life would already be hanging evenly, without the contribution of any female.
We should continue perpetuating the goal of equality precisely because of how we are different, not in the interest of proving we’re the same.
However, the vehicle driving me to address this is not one of retaliation and vengeance, but one of obedience. Scriptures that deal with women leadership in the Body simply should not be interpreted the way they most often are, and many facts prove this.
I will go into more about this in the coming chapters, but for now, I want to explain the Bible study methodologies I have applied in order to explain how I’ve arrived at the conclusions presented in this book.
We should never pull from a biblical text any potential meaning until we’ve taken the proper steps of interpretation. If we don’t take these steps, we’re guaranteed to arrive at a frequently twisted understanding of Scripture. First, let’s look at how easily this can confuse both those who are reading the Bible and their later audience (whether that be a congregation, a friend, or a coworker, and so on).
A cold, black-and-white sentence as read from a page in a book can have many different meanings based on the reader’s interpretation. Readers who are willing to interpret the Bible’s rules and guidelines for their own selfish agendas and then weigh down the rest of the Body with such miscalculated interpretations will find that the Bible can be a dangerous tool! Such skewed interpretation can—and has—been the road upon which scores of false teachers, preachers, and prophets have led millions of people into misunderstanding. To that, the Church agrees. Every Christian has heard stories of ministers who read Scripture, misinterpreted it (whether intentionally or unintentionally), and then made promises or cast judgments that fell flat when tested. Some of these ministers via televangelism and online media outlets like YouTube have done so to the detriment of listeners all across the nation—and I know I’m not alone in considering that a travesty.
Take the following sentence as an example: “I didn’t say he beat his wife.” (I am using an example outside the Bible, specifically because it doesn’t already have a biased interpretation behind it.) Now we will look at the emphasis as it is placed on each word in turn and observe how this small sentence made up of only seven words can relate at least seven different meanings:
- I didn’t say he beat his wife: “Someone else must have said it, but you didn’t hear it from me.”
- I didn’t say he beat his wife: “I didn’t say it at all. You’re making it up.”
- I didn’t say he beat his wife: “I might have implied it, but I didn’t directly declare it as fact.”
- I didn’t say he beat his wife: “I was talking about someone else when I told you that.”
- I didn’t say he beat his wife: “He’s just mean to her a lot, but he doesn’t actually strike her.”
- I didn’t say he beat his wife: “He beat that other guy’s wife.”
- I didn’t say he beat his wife: “He beats the kids and the dog.”
To add to this confusion, italics in the King James Bible are only meant as placeholders for when a word was later added to the English translation for flow. This rule first came into practice in 1560, when the Geneva Bible was produced. The Genevan Protestants at the time of John Calvin’s influence recognized that a word-for-word translation from Hebrew and Greek left some sentences in English stunted and hard to understand. (Really, no language can be translated word for word without a slight linguistic tweak for flow within the secondary language. Consider the Spanish tengo hambre. The word-for-word translation to English would be “have hunger,” but in a well-rounded translation to English, it means “I am hungry.”) Certain words were added to Bible translations merely to assist English readers in grasping the true meaning behind a sentence when the original Greek or Hebrew phrase, term, or idiom was incomprehensible or ambiguous without it. However, the Geneva Bible was tailored to readers within its locality (as opposed to a widely known form for all English speakers), and it caused errors and confusion. So in 1604, King James authorized fifty-four translators to complete a more accurate rendering. The project was completed in 1611, and the translators followed the model set by the Genevan Protestants. Readers of Scripture today cannot rely on italics to point to emphasis, because they are only present to show a linguistic tweak. Thus, every single word of the Bible must be interpreted without a specific emphasis until the proper interpretation methods are tended to.
If there were a sentence in the Bible that said, “I didn’t say he beat his wife,” and the reader was not willing to practice the most fundamental steps to pulling the true meaning out of what’s being said by the original authors, then that one blip of Scripture alone could mean at least seven different things, as illustrated above. Then a preacher can merely pick one of the seven interpretations, preach a message focused on that one interpretation, and convince an entire congregation (or nation) into believing the Scripture said what he believes it did—many times without even reading the Scriptures before and after it that likely assist in the overall interpretation (as I will address shortly).
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WAIT… A WOMAN PREACHING IN A CHRISTIAN CHURCH… WHAT DOES GOD THINK ABOUT THAT?!
Does this sound sensational? It shouldn’t. It happens a lot, actually. As one example: Many prosperity preachers have stood from their platforms and used James’ words, “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2) as an explanation for why congregants don’t have the house, car, money, or other earthly providence they need or want. I’ve heard more sermons than I can count that use this verse to “prove” people don’t get what they want from the Lord because they just aren’t asking diligently enough. However, the very next verse following “You have not because you ask not” states the reason people don’t get what they want: They are asking for something that satisfies an earthly and temporal lust (James 4:3). So this prosperity message referring to earthly gain, when based on James 4:2, meets instant and outright cancellation by the next verse in sequence.
This is a preposterous error that can—and frequently does—pollute the Church’s understanding of truth. But sadly, misinterpretation is far more often a side effect of a cultural, societal, or circumstantial issue, and it can have a spiritual (and perhaps eternal) consequence. I’ll give another example using three fictional people: Sarah, Jenny, and Amanda (again outside of Scripture, as it will not have any preexisting or biased interpretations associated with it).
- Sarah is driving home one night when she is hit head-on by a drunk driver. Her injuries are life-changing and painful, and she is lucky to be alive. The accident was clearly the other driver’s fault, and she is left wearing the bandages. Her best friend Jenny visits her and tells her: “You poor, dear soul. I’m so sorry for the pain that driver has caused you. This is not your fault. I know you feel lost and lonely right now, and every bone in your body aches, but remember that God is not blaming you for the accident. The Holy Spirit has plans to use you greatly in ministry, and you can rise above this. God works in mysterious ways, and this might be one of them. He can use even this.”
- The following year, Sarah’s friend, Amanda, is driving home from a bar after “ten too many” drinks. She has driven drunk many times in the past, and has even run into a few mailboxes, so she is aware of the dangers of drinking and driving on a personal level. On this particular night, she runs a stoplight and crashes into a smaller car, immediately killing everyone inside. Amanda survives, but her injuries are life-changing and painful, and she, too, is lucky to be alive. The accident was clearly Amanda’s fault, and she is left with the guilt of ending several lives as a result of her selfish decision. In a wave of contrition, she vents to Sarah. Sarah says: “I remember when I went through this myself. My friend Jenny had the perfect advice for me. I’ll tell you exactly what she said. ‘You poor, dear soul. I’m so sorry for the pain that driver has caused you. This is not your fault. I know you feel lost and lonely right now, and every bone in your body aches, but remember that God is not blaming you for the accident. The Holy Spirit has plans to use you greatly in ministry, and you can rise above this. God works in mysterious ways, and this might be one of them. He can use even this.’”
- Jenny hears that she has been quoted and calls Sarah, irritated about the misuse of her words. In Jenny’s opinion, Amanda was irrevocably at fault, and she needs to feel the weight of the consequences over a drunken joyride, or else she might repeat the same mistake later on and potentially take another life. Jenny wouldn’t have minded at all if she had been quoted in circumstances that harmonized with the original intent. In fact, she would have blessed that situation, because it would have represented encouragement in despair from one innocent traffic victim to another. But in this specific application, Jenny’s advice was circumstantially twisted. Sarah explains that she “didn’t misquote anyone.” The words she gave to Amanda were exactly what Jenny had said, down to the very letter. Therefore, she can’t be accused of misquoting. Jenny acknowledges that her words were said correctly, but the application of them was distorted, and they therefore conveyed an erroneous meaning. She intended them for Sarah, in Sarah’s position. Just before she hangs up, Jenny says, “You haven’t used my words faithfully, and therefore you don’t have my blessing in the way you’ve chosen to quote me. I will have nothing to do with this.”
UP NEXT: Is It Possible We’ve Misapplied Paul’s Words Regarding Female Leaders?