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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Should I use personal experience to interpret the Bible? Part 2

In last week’s article, I began a short series on enemies of sound interpretation.  We considered whether or not personal experience is a valid hermeneutical tool.  Before I move on to the next “enemy,” I’d like to go back to one of the examples I used in the last article.
One theological issue on which people tend to use personal experience to trump sound interpretation is the issue of women teaching and/or exercising authority over men.  It would seem that Paul clearly rules out women teaching men, yet some people object that many men have been blessed by the teaching of women.  Some have even come to know the Lord through the teaching of women.  How could it be the case that God is against women teaching men if He seems to be blessing it?
I explained why we shouldn’t use personal experience to overrule a given interpretation, but now I’d like to actually give an answer to this specific objection.  To begin, let’s look at the text itself:
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim 2:11-14)
First, let’s bolster the correct interpretation by noting that this is not a cultural command, that is, Paul is not communicating something that was unique to his culture that is not appropriate for our modern culture.  Notice that he does not ground this command in the culture, but in both the order of creation and the Fall.  Adam was created first.  This is true no matter what culture you live in.  Eve was deceived first.  This is true no matter what culture you live in.  So this is a timeless, non-cultural command.
Second, to deal with the original objection, let’s consider that God often uses the disobedience of humans to accomplish His ends.  This happens all over the Old and New Testaments.  The golden example is God using the evil of Joseph’s brother's sin to save the descendants of Abraham (Gen 50:15-21).  There are many other examples, and on the basis of those alone we should not be surprised that the Lord would lead people to salvation through the disobedience of others.
But there is another example in the NT that is very closely related to the issue at hand.  In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul informed the recipients that his imprisonment had led to the advancement of the gospel in a number of ways.  All of the imperial guards knew that his imprisonment was for the gospel.  Also, many believers became much more bold to speak the word without fear because of his imprisonment.  And then he added this:
 15 ¶ Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
(Phil 1:15-18)
This is huge.  Paul rejoiced that the gospel was being preached even though some that were preaching it were doing so with sinful motives.  Paul rejoiced not because of the sinful motive, but because the gospel was being advanced in spite of those motives.  Did the fact that the gospel was being advanced negate the sinful motives?  Did the spread of the gospel through the selfishly ambitious validate their actions?  By no means.  It was sinful for them to preach the gospel for ungodly reasons.  It was sinful for them to want to afflict Paul in his imprisonment.  Envy and rivalry are not virtues.  According to 1 Cor 3:10-15 and 4:5 indicate that those people will suffer loss on the day of judgment rather than receiving commendation.  Here we have an example of God using the sinful actions of some to achieve His ends.  (We have a sermon on our website about why motive matters.  You can find it here.)
We should regard women teaching men in the same way.  The Scriptures do not allow women to teach men or to exercise authority over men.  It is sinful.  1Tim 2:11-14 is as clear as it can be.  That God uses such teaching to bless men or to lead them to salvation should not be seen as a validation of women teaching men but rather as an example of God using sinful acts to accomplish His own ends.  Those who violate this command should not expect to receive a commendation on the day of judgment, but rather to suffer loss. 
Once again, we must interpret Scripture with Scripture.  We must also interpret our personal experience with Scripture.  We must never interpret Scripture by our personal experience. 
Next time we’ll consider another enemy of sound interpretation: conflicting pressupositions.

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