Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Peter Enns - "Five Views of Inerrancy," Part 2b - Peter Enns Responds

“inerrancy doesn’t describe what the Bible does” -
some comments from my ETS talk

by Peter Enns
[with select emendation by R.E. Slater]
July 29, 2014

"I could have sworn I posted this months ago, but didn’t. So here it is."

... These are my comments I gave at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Baltimore last November as part of the panel discussing the book I contributed to (along with Al Mohler, John Franke, Michael Bird, and Kevin Vanhoozer), Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Each of us had 15 minutes for some remarks before we began engaging each other.

In retrospect I don’t think much was accomplished–nor could it be–in that setting and at that venue. Neither do I think the volume can have the kind of impact some might have hoped for, since–at least I felt–most of our time was spent staking out territory rather than engaging substantive issues.

If we had had one more pass at each other, I would have asked some pointed questions re: the nature of biblical scholarship and “evangelical biblical scholarship,” especially of Vanhoozer and Bird, as I felt their essays and responses in the volume perpetuated certain idiosyncrasies and apologetic tropes (which I go into in my brief responses to each of them), and I expected a bit more from them (particularly of Bird, as his training is in biblical scholarship).

So, the 15 minute presentation I gave at ETS is my attempt to go a bit more into my view on inerrancy from a slightly different angle to address some general issues that remained for me after the volume had been completed.

It’s a bit longish as a post (2000 words), but I’ve done worse.


1. Inerrancy prescribes the Bible–and God–too narrowly

The title of my essay [in the book] is “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does.” What I mean is this:

"However inerrancy may be defined—whether strictly or in its more nuanced, progressive varieties (both types are represented in this book)—however it is defined, in my opinion inerrancy doesn’t sit well with what I see when I open my Bible and read it."

As I see it, inerrancy prescribes the boundaries of biblical interpretation in ways that creates conflict both inner-canonically and with respect to extra-biblical information. This is why “holding on to inerrancy” (as it is often put) seems to be such a high-maintenance activity, requiring vigilant and constant tending [by its supporters - res].

This dynamic suggests to me not only that the term may not be an apt descriptor of Scripture, but it virtually guarantees continued unrest within evangelicalism whenever alternate voices are raised.

In my opinion, a strict, literalistic, inerrantist position requires more intellectual isolation that I am not willing to grant—as I’m sure a good number here would agree. A more progressive variety is marked by such things as a true working respect for the Bible’s literary qualities, genres, and historical settings, which tends to temper a strict inerrantist model. But here, too, the ceiling for me remains too low.

If I may play on that spatial metaphor for a moment—strict inerrancy, hermeneutically speaking, is like crawling on my belly through a low and narrow tunnel; progressive inerrancy (and pardon the reductionism) is like wandering though a house—but with 5-foot ceilings.

It’s good to be able to get on my feet, but I can’t stand up straight without hitting my head and after a while my back is so stiff I couldn’t straighten up if I wanted to.

In other words, as I see it, a progressive form of inerrancy (a position voiced by two of our co-authors) still does not provide the room to address the data and give the sorts of answers that I feel are warranted and necessary.

In order to allow for the types of interpretive conclusions, genre designations, and hermeneutical strategies that I am convinced need to be applied to Scripture, I would have to redefine inerrancy in ways that would leave me feeling dishonest—my own Inigo Montoya moment from Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” This is why, beginning in 2007, I discontinued my membership to ETS. Nothing personal.

Perhaps the root theological misgiving for me is that inerrancy prescribes biblical interpretation too narrowly because it prescribes God too narrowly.

The premise all inerrantists hold to on some level—albeit in varying degrees—is that an inerrant Bible is the only kind of book that, logically, God would be able to produce, the only means by which a truth-telling God would communicate.

As I see it, the rhythmic, recurring, generational tensions over inerrancy within evangelicalism are fueled by the distance between this a priori theological expectation about God and how his book should behave, and the persistently non-cooperative details of biblical interpretation.

I think of inerrancy as a model of Scripture. Models are brought forward to explain a set of phenomena. If they do not adequately address the phenomena, then the model ceases having compelling explanatory value, and is usually set aside in favor of others models.

One can refine or nuance any model, to be sure, but how much nuancing can inerrancy handle? And when we keep in mind inerrancy’s function within evangelicalism, which has been essentially defensive, to keep out wrong thinking, then too much nuancing removes many of inerrancy’s teeth.

2. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy prescribes an unworkable model of Scripture

The prescriptive function of inerrancy is showcased in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, both in terms of its own rhetoric as well as in the authority subsequently bequeathed to it in evangelical culture. I feel this prescriptive function has obstructed the kind of critical dialogue clearly surfacing within evangelicalism.

I’d like to mention here just one issue to illustrate: how the Chicago Statement connects truth, God, and Scripture. We find this very early on, in the section entitled “A Short Statement,” which consists of five assertions intended to set parameters for what follows.

The first statement speaks of God “who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only.” This opening premise is critical to the rhetoric of the Chicago Statement: it links inerrancy with the very nature of God, which is, indeed a common defense of inerrancy.

But I am not willing to give this assertion a free ride.

First, it implies that those who critique inerrancy stand in opposition to God himself. This is a conversation-stopper and, if taken to heart, erects a wholly insulated, self-referential system of thought, which is in fact what has happened.

Second, what is missing here, at the outset of the Chicago Statement where it would be most appropriate to include it, is hermeneutical self-consciousness—a reflection on the nature of the truth that God speaks…in ancient texts.

That the Chicago Statement doesn’t give even a nod here to the hermeneutical and theological dimensions of discussing God, truth, and Scripture is more than just a gaping hole: it colors the document from beginning to end and renders it entirely inadequate for engaging the very issues that bring the inadequacies of inerrancy to light.

What should be brought explicitly to the forefront here—at the outset—is the manner in which God speaks in Scripture, namely through the idioms, attitudes, assumptions, and general worldviews of the ancient authors. I know the Chicago Statement makes a subtle overture to this later on, but too ambiguous, too little, and too late.

[*... this latter here is key for me. In essence, how do we today "read through the worldviews of the ancients." Too little leaves us a wooden and closed Bible. Too much leaves us with a human document. The first  method would give us dogma. The second method would give us rationality and reason alone. As I have said on my blog site: "Biblical criticism is perennially caught between the Scylla of interpretive freedom and the Charybdis of irrelevance. Too much hermeneutic freedom and the tradition disintegrates, losing its epistemological appeal. Too little interpretive freedom and the Bible becomes merely an irrelevant historical artifact, rather than the living word of God." Inherently, evangelical biblical interpretation is unquestionably caught between a need for relevance and the need for textual validity." - r.e. Slater]

Novelist James Michener writes of ancient Israel's belief in
many gods in his 1965 title, "The Source." - r.e. slater

3. Israel believed in many gods

Consider the phenomenon in the Old Testament: that Israel’s God is not the only deity but one of many.

For example, in Psalm 95 Yahweh’s greatness is proclaimed by means of a comparison with other gods:

“Yahweh is the great God, he great king above all gods.”

Job 1-2 and Psalm 82 begin with Yahweh presiding over a divine council. In Job the scene is quickly dominated by “the accuser,” but in Psalm 82 Yahweh is chiding the other gods for not meeting out justice on earth as they should.

And in Exodus 12:12, the last plague is described as Yahweh’s crowning judgment on “all the gods of Egypt.”

Since, as we are told in the Chicago Statement, in Scripture it is God who speaks, and God speaks only truth, and would neither deceive nor mislead us—what are we to conclude? That there are in fact other gods, some of whom are subordinate to Yahweh and others with whom he contends?

One could suggest ad hoc solutions: these aren’t gods but angels or demons or hyperbole. But the Old Testament doesn’t say any of this, and making things up to protect dogma is never a good idea.

God, who (according to inerrantist rhetoric) speaks only truth when telling us about himself, says “gods.” If “days are days” (Genesis 1), floods are floods, dead Canaanites are dead Canaanites, then surely gods are gods.

Right? Shouldn’t the inerrantist logic be followed through to the end?

Or consider Deuteronomy 32:8, where the high god Elyon—known to us also from Ugaritic religion—apportions the nations to the lesser gods, one of whom is Yahweh, whose “portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share”—and so Kemosh gets Moab, Baal gets the Canaanites, and so forth.

(You’ll need to consult a good commentary or study Bible to see this. Early Jewish scribes changed the text to conform to strict monotheistic standards. English Bibles reflect this later “corrected” reading, but without seeing it in translation notes you’d never know it.)

Are we–according to inerrantist logic–bound by Scripture and the truth-telling God who speaks therein to say, therefore, that Israel’s God, like the other gods, is ethnically and geographically bound and answers to a higher authority?

The language of the Chicago Statement is not helpful to me in these instances. What does it mean to speak of these sorts of things as “truth” from God and therefore“inerrant”?

I understand that inerrancy, as it is commonly defended, only pertains to what the Bible teaches or affirms (as some of my co-authors repeat)—but I see a lot of teaching or at least affirming going on here in these verses.

[* usually what is meant by "what the Bible affirms" is what a church fellowship or denomination believes the Bible to affirm. Thus effectively swapping out God's Word for man's word. Thus the problems theologians encounter when attempting to correlate preferred biblical readings in place of meaningful biblical text. - r.e. slater]

If these texts that tell us about God aren’t at least “affirming” something, I’m not sure what the word means.

I also realize these descriptions of God aren’t everywhere in the Old Testament, but does that really matter? Are we free to “pick and choose” what we want to believe?

These statement are so…clear…God is speaking clearly….if we don’t follow his plain word here, what reason would we have to follow his word anywhere? The next thing we’ll be doing in denying the resurrection.

Forgive the rhetoric. I’m just trying to make a point, and I hope it is not too subtle.

4. Inerrancy doesn’t describe what the Bible does

I don’t think the gods of the ancient Near East exist, nor did our God ever preside over a heavenly board meeting, nor was he ever under the authority Elyon.

I do believe, however, that the ancient Israelites believed that, but that does not mean that their belief at this moment in redemptive history represents absolute “spiritual reality” so to speak.

Now why do I say that? It’s not because I disrespect the Bible. I have two reasons.

One reason is the New Testament. A canonical view leads us further along the biblical plot line, so to speak, and so I believe that there is one God not many (a view that is already echoed in other portions of the Old Testament).

Scripture is varied and on the move, and so, for inner-biblical reasons alone, I don’t expect every part of Scripture—even those parts that talk about God—to provide absolute, unerring, truth.

[*this gets to the idea of fluidity in human language and understanding. That the parts of a text are not necessarily the entirety of its communication. That it takes time, movement, and historical occurrence of event to understand a biblical text correctly apart from assuming its "knowledge" at its first initial prophecy or later (perhaps errant) reading.

That Israel, like us today, was in the mode of "interpreting" God's Word for their own situation even as we are today in the church. However, for the New Testament Christian, with backwards hindsight towards Jesus - and 2000 years of church deliberation about doctrine and praxis (e.g. the "doing and outward act" of one's doctrinal belief) - has had time to figure things out.

Even so, as each century or decade comes-and-goes new movements and philosophies, nationalisms and sociological behavior, will require "re-appraising" the biblical text in light of what the church "thinks it knows" compared to what "it is concretely (not correctly, but concretely, practically, plainly) communicating and doing" by its actions. Actions that could be right or wrong, evil or compassionate.

Truly, actions speak louder than words. But action also activates a faith or belief about something (whether rightly or wrongly). As example, consider slavery. Many Christians of the past thought human trafficking was acceptable... but now it is not. Without praxis a faith remains mute, silent, inactive, without salt or resolve. Mostly, it seems that the church's actions have harmed rather than helped. Condemned and not blessed. Judged without compassion, grace, mercy, or forgiveness. Why? Because we have substituted our words and understanding and interpretations for God's harder Word of grace and forgiveness, mercy and hope.

Hence, the act of praxis creates faiths that are either spurious or meaningful in a Jesus / New Testament kind-of-way. For belief alone tells us nothing about ourselves until it "lights up" with "doing," "activity," "speech, word, and example.

And so, as Peter Enns has correctly observed, "Scripture is on the move."

- r.e. slater]

The second reason is what we know through historical and archaeological work about the ancient tribal environment in which the ancient Israelites participated. Understanding something about the world of the Bible can help us here.

The way God is described in Job or the Psalms, etc., makes perfect sense in that cultural context. But the opening assertion of the Chicago Statement, that God “who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only” –that seems off topic to me, words not designed to address what we are seeing here.

I apply this same sort of thinking to the three issues discussed in our book, especially two of them—the historicity of the fall of Jericho and God’s command to exterminate the Canaanites.

To understand both I appeal to (1) the gospel movement away from tribal thinking about God, and (2) to archaeological and literary data from Israel’s cultural context.

This is why I draw the rather common, almost mundane, conclusion (and you have to read my essay in the book to get the details) that the stories of Jericho and Canaanite extermination are (1) not “historical” in any sense that we normally use the word, nor do they (2) provide a binding, permanent, absolute picture of God.

I can certainly understand and respect why ancient Israelites would speak this way. But, like the issue of many gods in the Old Testament, this doesn’t mean that the Jericho and Canaanite extermination episodes are the final word historically or theologically.

I do not believe I am dismissing the Old Testament, nor is this (for heaven’s sake!) dualistic Marcionism, which says the Gods of the Old Testament are two different Gods. I am not saying there are two gods; one God is the God of Scripture. But God is portrayed differently by the biblical writers at different times and places.

Within the Old Testament God is already portrayed in diverse ways. In the Gospel, Christians believe, the fuller gaze on God is provided through the Gospel.

Acknowledging this diverse portrait of God, especially when getting to the New Testament, is simply an aspect of grappling with “Bible in context” and the canonical complexity of the problem of continuity and discontinuity between the testaments.

And doing so is simply to participate in the Christian theological project that has been part of the church’s consciousness since Paul and the Gospel writers–what do we do with the story of Israel in light of the Christ event? This isn’t anything new.

5. An “Incarnational Model” is more helpful

For me, inerrancy or the Chicago Statement don’t come close to addressing this fundamental hermeneutical challenge for Christian readers of the Bible.

I do continue to think, however, that an incarnational model of Scripture is helpful. It’s not new. I didn’t invent it. Some form of it goes back at the very least to Athanasius. And no one, least of all me, is claiming by this analogy I am claiming a hypostatic union in Scripture (!!).

It’s an analogy—explaining one thing by means of another. The main purpose of this analogy is to present a vision of Scripture where historical context ceases being such a huge doctrinal hurdle, a problem to be solved, and becomes yet another picture of how God willingly and lovingly participates in the human drama.

It provides theological language for why the Bible acts so…ancient, why we see the use of mythic language and concepts in the Old Testament—a heavenly boardroom scene—or why Israel’s God is portrayed as a tribal warrior for whom mass killings seem to be his preferred method of conflict resolution.

I don’t think inerrancy is the right category for wrapping my arms around Scripture’s complex dynamic.

But a God who is in the business of meeting us where we are (this is good news) and a Scripture that displays for us this energetic, relentless—and mysterious—interplay of the Spirit of God and ancient cultures…well, I’m not saying I get it. And I do understand this thought may be troubling, to some more than others.

But as C. S. Lewis puts it, the incarnation is after all “an incurably irreverent doctrine.” It’s not comfortable. It’s even a bit unsettling when we think of how God likes to show up.

An incarnational model is not the only or best way to think of the Bible at all times. But when the topic turns to historical matters—the core of our book and heart of the inerrancy debate—it at least gives me theological language by which to talk about what I see in Scripture with respect and awe.

To sum up, inerrancy for me is a model of Scripture that does not describe well what Scripture does. Perhaps in our current moment, God is not calling us to reinvigorate a defense, become entrenched, or formulate more complex and subtle defenses of what we feel the Bible needs to be, but to teach future generations—in the academy, the church, and the world—better ways of meeting God in the Scripture we have.

Creating Beliefs from Biblical Texts Not Meant To Teach Those Beliefs

Beliefs Known by Praxis

by Scot McKnight
August 5, 2014

What we believe and how we behave are not quite perfectly matched, at least not this side of the kingdom, but it is not unfair to say that what one believes is seen in how one lives. If you say you believe in God but never pray, or if you say you believe in forgiveness and hold grudges, or if you say you believe God loves all but your circle of friends is restricted to folks like yourself — well, your acts reveal what you really believe or you have acted outside the bounds of your beliefs.

Sometimes, however, it works another way: sometimes what we believe needs praxis to reveal what the beliefs entail. Sometimes the beliefs are such that the actual practices of those with those beliefs reveal that what we thought they believed is not how they understood their belief.

Take, for instance, women, authority, church, teaching, and leading.

We have a few statements in the Bible that we might call the beliefs, and then there are the practices of women. I contend the practices reveal that what some think the Bible “believes” is not in fact what the Bible actually believes.

Here are the principal texts that one might call the beliefs:

Genesis 3:16: To Eve God says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

This is taken by some to mean the man’s “role” is to “rule” and the woman’s “role” is “to be led by her man.” Subordinationism for the woman, governance/headship by the husband. Or, another so-called “belief” text:

1 Corinthians 14:33-35: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Proper church order then is for a man to speak and a woman to be silent. The same kind of “belief” text is found here:

1 Timothy 2:11-15: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

These two silence texts are taken by some to mean that women are not to be elders or teachers or pastors or preachers or stand behind the pulpit on Sundays in front of a mixed congregation of males and females [here all kinds of gymnastics have been created, like "adult" males or "Sunday services" etc].

One more. There are texts in Paul’s later Pastoral letters that give guidelines on the character and qualifications of elders and deacons.

Here’s such a list:

1 Timothy 3:1: Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Most importantly, it is argued from these instructions about elders and deacons that Paul believes they must be males since he speaks to males, which he very clearly does. He clearly assumes the elders and deacons are males. But does he teach that only malescan be elders and deacons? Many think Paul believes and teaches that elders and deacons must be males.

OK, to test what we think the Bible believes here, let’s examine the praxis. [I have some of this in my book The Blue Parakeet and some other stuff in Junia Is Not Alone.] The praxis texts of the Bible, I contend, prove that many are creating “beliefs” out of texts that were not meant to teach those beliefs.

The praxis reveals that the beliefs are otherwise. The praxis reveals that hierarchicalism in marriage is not intended, that female subordination to men in all social conditions is wrong, that total silence in the churches is wrong, and that women were deacons and that if there were female deacons then the assumed readings, creating those beliefs, are also wrong.

Here goes with the praxis texts:

1. Deborah judged all of Israel — which puts here at the top of the nation, over all things, including military, political, legal, and therefore also “religious” dimensions of life in Israel.Judges 4–5. This woman was subordinate to no man in Israel. She was above them all.

2. Huldah was a prophet, which means she spoke for God to the whole people of Israel. 2 Kings 22:14-20. She spoke for God. There was no male intermediary between her and God. That’s what prophets do — they hear a message from God and they speak for God to the people of God.

3. The Woman of Proverbs 31 did not work in the home (as it is said) but in the public sector. To be sure, she honors her husband. She buys and sells out of her own monies (surely this does not refer to her allowances). Her husbands “praises” her. She gets public honor for her work. I see precious little here that indicates hierarchicalism; instead, what I see is a man who loves his wife and a wife who loves her husband and who both work for the good of the family.

4. Junia is an apostle (Romans 16), and this term refers to missionary church planting, including evangelism and equipping the saints. I have big doubts that this term “apostle” is equivalent to what it means when we refer to Peter and Paul, but it surely refers at least to church planting missionary work. Not just supporting a husband church planter, but apostle-ing. (Missionaries have always done this; if on the field, so also at home!)

5. The daughters of Philip were prophets (Acts 21:9; to call someone a “prophetess” might diminish her gift so I prefer to use the same term), and a prophet spoke for God to the people of God. They did this.

6. Priscilla taught Apollos (Acts 18:26). It does not say she taught in subordination to her husband; it says “they” taught him.

7. Phoebe, and this is a text that deserves some consideration, was a deacon (not just “servant” as in 1984 NIV, but “deacon” as in NIV 2011). She “deac-ed” — which means she did the things in 1 Tim 3 pertaining to deacons.

What I’m getting at is this: though 1 Timothy 3 assumed both elders and deacons were males, this text definitively proves that women could be deacons too. Which means this: our assumptions that only males could be deacons are wrong. Paul’s rhetoric seems to offer a set of beliefs that indicate women could not be deacons, when the praxis shows they were deacons. Praxis shows what Paul meant when he said what he said in 1 Timothy 3. Our interpretation of 1 Tim 3 must fit Paul’s actual praxis of deacons.

Now a question: If this is the case with deacons, what prevents us from saying the same of elders/overseers? Nothing other than our assumed interpretations.

If with deacons, so also with elders.

The beliefs are seen more accurately when the outworkings of those beliefs are visible in practices.