I will try to make this the last post in this series. It has been a difficult series for me to write. I admit that I have not enjoyed it. It has taken me out of my comfort zone and stretched me. That’s good. I have tried to be honest with the biblical text. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on my analysis of the poll results, especially whether or not a particular statement in the poll is explicitly taught in the Bible.
As I have been posting this series, I have been discovering that there are differences of understanding (or opinion) about what it means for something to be “explicitly taught” in the Bible. I must admit that when I put up the poll I thought that this concept was fairly clear. It seemed clear to me! But this exercise has showed me that I was wrong, so I have learned something. And that is good also. What I intended by the wording “explicitly taught” was that either in the biblical languages texts or in any accurate translation, something is explicitly taught if a proposition (roughly, a proposition corresponds approximately to a clause or sometimes a sentence) in the text states something to its original addressees as a command or an example to follow.
For some, this begs the question of translation itself, since the meaning of the biblical text is not always clear. And since it is not clear, it is not clear how to translate it. And if something is not clear, it may not be clear whether or not it is explicitly taught. These are clearly difficulties. But I wasn’t thinking about such difficulties when I put up this poll. I was thinking in more layman (Leman?!) terms, of when something in the biblical text or a translation of it looks like a command or an example to follow, for the original addressees.
By “explicitly taught” I was *not* thinking of post-translation interpretation of the text. And, yes, I realize that there is no clear line between pre-translation interpretation necessary to translate at all and post-translation interpretation of the kind that many would consider “personal interpretation” or interpretation that lacks scholarly consensus. And I was definitely not thinking of *application* of the text to current readers.
Let me illustrate with an example that I hope that is fairly clear and not tied to any difficulty in interpretation of the biblical text necessary for accurate translation. The biblical text of Deut. 22:9, both in the Hebrew and, here, as in translation:
You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together. (NRSV)
To me, anyway, this is an explicit teaching in the Bible not to wear clothing which has fabric made from the two different kinds of woven cloth, wool and linen. I don’t think there is much debate that that is what this verse explicitly commands (teaches). Now, I don’t know if I have ever worn such clothing. I quite likely have. And to be truthful, it doesn’t bother me if I have. I am a normal person who picks and chooses what I believe directly applies to me in the Bible (yes, you are normal and you do too!). I do believe that there are principles that I follow for determining which commands of the Bible I consider applicable to me. But others will almost for sure not agree with me on everything in my personal list of teachings that I follow from the Bible. That is not the issue for this poll. The issue is whether or not the biblical text ever commands someone to do or not to do something. If the text does, then I consider it to be “explicit.”
By explicit, I mean that it is directly stated in the text. I am not referring here to literal translation of the text or a literal interpretation of the text. I am only referring to what the text commands whether by imperatives or examples we are follow. There is plenty here that can be debated, but I hope that my explanation will help clear up uncertainty about the word “explicit” in the poll. I’m not trying to split some semantic hairs here. I really was trying to have a fairly straightforward poll, based on what I thought was a common understanding of terms. You are welcome to debate my understanding of what “explicit teaching” means. You are welcome to find flaws in my logic. And you are welcome to include about your disagreements in comments to this post. I would, however, request that, if you can do so, you attempt to put yourself in the shoes I was trying to wear when I put the poll with its wordings in the margin of this blog. Many of us are gifted with finely tuned analytical minds which can quickly spot flaws. And that is good. We need such analytical skills to benefit the Body. But sometimes, I suggest, it is also good to try to see things from another person’s point of view, or from a commonly held point of view, at least once that has been clarified (as best as we can!). Phew! This can be tiring! But it’s important to be clear, isn’t it?
The seventh statement in the poll is: “A husband has authority over his wife.” I know of know statement in the Bible which explicitly teaches this. By post-translation interpretation or theological preference, one might say that since the Bible teaches that a man is the “head” — I should emphasize that the Bible actually has the Greek word, kephale and the meaning of that word is debated, but I thought its meaning was fairly clear in the passages I have cited — of his wife and that a wife is to hupotasso (which I am comfortable translating “submit”), therefore the Bible explicitly teaches that a husband has authority over his wife. But this is not a use of the word “explicit” which I intended for this poll, which I tried to explain at the beginning of this post. When I asked in the poll if this statement was explicitly taught in the Bible, I intended the meaning that Hebrew or Greek words for ‘authority’ (or synonyms such as ‘rule over’) would be in the biblical text, leading to a translation of that text that had the word “authority” (or a close synonym).
Paul told the Christians at Rome (Rom. 13:1) that they were to submit (hupotasso) to government authorities (the Greek singular is eksousia). Therefore, the Bible explicitly taught the Roman Christians (I believe that it is true for us, also, by application) that governmental entities had authority over them.
Does the Bible ever teach that a husband has eksousia (authority) over his wife? Not that I know of, but please do correct me if I am wrong. There is only one explicit teaching that I know of that comes close, and that is 1 Cor. 7:4:
The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (NASB)
Note that this does not say that a husband has authority over his wife; it says that he has authority over his wife’s body. And the wife, in turn, has authority over her husband’s body.
Some point to what God told the serpent, Adam, and Eve in Gen. 3:14-19, after Adam and Even sinned. They cite this passage believing that it explicitly teaches that a husband has authority (rule over) his wife:
14 The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspringn and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (ESV)
Read this passage very carefully. Does it command Adam (or the man as representative of all men) to “rule over” his wife? No, it does not. There is no instruction to Adam to do so, as part of the curse after the Fall. There are two things which are cursed (remember, we’re being explicit!) in this passage and only two:
- the serpent (Gen. 3:14)
- the land (Gen. 3:17)
What, then, is the rhetorical force of God’s statement to Eve that “he (her husband, Adam) will rule over you”? Is it a command? No. It is a prediction of how her husband will treat her. It’s a prediction that was stated *after* Adam and Eve sinned. My own guess is that Adam did not rule over Eve before the Fall. Is it God’s desire for husbands to rule over their wives? I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it. And I can say that I know of no explicit teaching in the Bible that it is God’s desire for a husband to have authority over his wife (or to rule over her). Nor, for that matter, is there any explicit teaching that a wife should rule over her husband. And as I have tried to say in previous posts in this series, I do not believe that God’s plan for marriage includes rule of one person over another. If that were God’s plan and God considered it an important teaching for us to know, surely he would have ensured that somewhere in the canon husbands would be commanded to have authority over their wives (or, synonymously, to rule over them). (FWIW, the marriages I have observed in which one spouse (either the husband or the wife) rules over the other are quite dysfunctional. I know that God does not want us to have dysfunctional marriages, but will sure help us if we have one and are willing to accept his help. It is most helpful if both spouses are willing.)
I respect those who disagree with what I have just said. They have a right to believe differently from what I have come to believe, slowly, about the marriage relationships of headship and submission. But I would challenge them to find any scripture that explicitly teaches husbands to rule (or have authority) over their wives. I do not believe that such scripture can be found. One can only find passages which are post-translation *interpreted* or *applied* to mean that a husband has authority over his wife.
My intentions have once again been better than my performance. I have again run out of space, time and energy to write more. It is my hope and, yes, even my prayer, that something in this post can be of help, if nothing else, the spirit in which I write it, recognizing that I may be wrong and others may be right, but that what I have said is what I understand the Bible to explicitly teach.
I’ll try again in my next post to complete this series!