Roles in the Church, Revisited

Quite some time ago someone (Ian? Russ? Jason?) posted an essay based on a passage in 1 Corinthians that generated more heat than light. The author was offensive in his presentation, lacking the requisite “gentleness and meekness”, but we tried to look at the meat of his assertion, rather than his offensive presentation. I think we discussed 1Cor.15:34-35. I remember my point was if you want to determine proper roles in the church it would be better to look at an epistle that specifically deals with laying them out, such as Titus and 1Timothy. Since the Corinthian church had such a variety of problems, and since Paul was answering questions they had apparently asked him (but which WE don’t get to see), I felt that context could have a huge impact on the application of any particular verse in Corinthians. I thought it would be preferrable to go to a clearly didactic passage. (I remember Russ being concerned that I was discounting a portion of Scripture, that all Scripture is of God. I wasn’t contending otherwise, but I WAS trying to point out the importance of getting the context straight.)

Anyway…in learning Greek, I have discovered a use of the Present Tense that applies to this original issue (the place of women in the church) quite well…and guess what? It’s NOT in Corinthians and it IS in 1Timothy! [no, I’m not sticking out my tongue and saying “nyah, nyah, nyah…”…OK, maybe a little ;)] It’s called the “Gnomic Present”. (Tim and John, please correct me if I’m wrong here.)The Gnomic Present is used for Proverbial statements and maxims, representing timeless facts. Usually the Subject and/or Direct Object of the sentence is generic. It appears to me that 1Tim.2:12 [“I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.”] would be a Gnomic Present Tense, i.e. stating a maxim, a truism that is true any time. It’s Present Tense, has a generic Direct Object (“a woman”) and is rooted in Creation (2:13)and is connected to (2:12) by “For”, indicating the Reason behind (2:12). So this appears to me to be a general maxim, NOT a specific, temporary situation such as MIGHT apply in Corinthians.

My Greek text (Wallace) states that “The normal use of the present tense in didactic [i.e. “teaching”, “instructive”] literature, especially when introducing an exhortation, is not descriptive, but a general precept that has gnomic implications.” This is interesting stuff! Keep that definition in mind and take a look at Rom.6:11, 12, 13; 12:2, 14 and 13:1 just to see some examples of this in Romans.


6 comments on “Roles in the Church, Revisited

  1. Ian says:

    Aren’t the original; languages wonderful? Almost magical, or mystical in a way as they truly do open up a whole new level of study and understanding of the Scriptures. I am finishing up my 4th semester in Hebrew and am frustrated beyond belief with my limited understanding of the language. I look forward to my Greek studies, which I probably won’t start until seminary. Of course, by then I’ll have to take Hebrew again because I’ll have forgotten what little I know now!

    So, with the understanding of the gnomic tense, can we assume that Paul wore pointy red hats and lived in hollowed out trees? Sorry, couldn’t resist. Seriously, though, with the gnomic tense working as it does in the I Tim text, can we say that Paul’s comment about not letting women teach or exercising authority over man is prescriptive to all church structure/operations, and not simply descriptive of his opinion or instruction to the particular recipients of that letter? How should we then make the application in our churches? Also, how is the grammar in this text similar to/different from the language in texts such as I Cor. 7:8 where he says that it is better to stay single (this is a grammatical question, not theological :)?

    And that original conversation…!Oh, I don’t know, I thought that was a great discussion! Sure, it got a little passionate at times, but how else are we to discuss the Scriptures and speak the things of God if not passionately? The discussion started off on Jason’s BLOG, then resumed on mine (back when I actually posted stuff 😦 Anyone wishing to relive the conversation can do so here. The post also contains a link to the original article that started it all. (It also has a link to the original discussion on Jason’s BLOG, but the link is dead. So is Jason’s BLOG, for that matter. Now that I think about it, so is mine! Who knows, maybe with classes out the way, this summer will see a revival. I actually do have stuff that I want to write about!)

  2. Beth'sMomToo says:

    Exactly…if it is Gnomic, then it would be a general mixim abojut what occurs at all times. You could gloss it in translating as “does” rather than “is doing”.

    I was one chapter off on the 1Cor. passage – it’s 14:34-35. I don’t think this would be Gnomic, for one thing, “women” isn’t generic here, it’s qualified by “your”. And it’s in the Imperative Mode/Mood, a direct command, not a statement of a universal truth. Verse 35a again has qualifications, “their” husbands. V.35b is Present tense and “women” is generic and might be considered a maxim, but it doesn’t have a clear tie-in to Genesis like the 1Timothy passage does.

    Some other probably Gnomic Present Tenses in 1Cor. are: 3:18,21; 6:9,18; 9:9; 10:14; 15:34. And 2Cor.6:14 and 9:7. So that gives you an idea of the flavor of the Gnomic Present.

    I should mention that some people think 1Tim.2:12 is a Descriptive Present, but that idea could mean that in the future it “might” be allowed and would be translated something like, “I do not presently permit…”. But it does look Gnomic to me.

    Glad to hear you’re taking Hebrew, but if it’s anything like taking Greek, the first year is the worst. I felt completely over my head last year. But this year I’m learning the refinements and feel I have a better handle on it. I also know how many more refinements there are that I don’t know yet!! If you can take a second year of Hebrew I think it would really help lock it down in your memory. I also “intend”, at least, to keep translating regularly. If there is an OT book that has an easier level of Hebrew, try continuing to translate a few verses a day.

    Knowing a little bit of Koine has completely opened up the NT (and the OT LXX, at least) in an incredible way. I’m sure learning Hebrew has done the same for you! I’ve found a few things people argue about or are confused about to be so easily answered if you could only see the original language! I’ve also discovered that some people who write Commentaries are NOT always careful in their conclusions. I’m a lot more cautious buying Commentaries now.

  3. Ian says:

    Good point about the commentaries. I’m much more discriminating after what I’ve learned about the Hebrew language. The culture of the language adds a depth of meaning to the text that just doesn’t translate into English. A lot of commentators are content to work from a simple “textual” translation rather than diving into the context of the language itself and translating accordingly. I guess thats the difference between translating and interpreting.

    Unfortunately, my college only offers 4 semesters of Hebrew, which I’ve taken all 4 of, and which works out to 2 full years. My prof., Dr. Curtis, does offer reading groups beyond the 4th semester, but they don’t bear any credit value. Not only do I not feel comfortable enough with the language to sit in with some of the guys that I have gone through these past 4 semesters with, but I really do not have the liberty of spare time to take non-credit classes. As far as finding an easy passage to translate, I just got done translating the first 8 chapters of Zechariah, so just about anything will qualify as easy compared to that. I’m going to start teaching the kids Hebrew as part of their home school curriculum, so I’ll stay in practice for a while yet.

    Now, another question about the I Tim text. If it is indeed a gnomic maxim, could we say that as such it qualifies, or at least trumps, Paul’s exhortation/instruction in I Cor 14? It would seem that the gnomic tense would serve well to unify these scriputres as they speak of the same topic.

  4. Beth'sMomToo says:

    I feel much more comfortable with the 1Tim. passage as the general truth for church practice. I have to be honest when I say that we just don’t know all the details of the specific problems in the Corinthian church that Paul was responding to in 1Cor.14:34-35. If you look back at 1Cor.11:5 you see that at that time women WERE praying and prophesying in the Corinthian church, and Paul didn’t upbraid them for it. 1Cor. IS an early letter, just like in Acts, it was a transitional time. Not everything that was occurring at the time 1Cor. was written continued on as standard practice as the church developed and Scripture was completed. But I don’t believe women EVER had Apostolic authority. And I believe the 1Tim. passage makes standard church roles quite clear regarding leadership and formal teaching of doctrine in the church. So, sorry, you’re probably not going to convince me that 1Cor. is a good book to establish doctrine from, just like Acts is not appropriate for establishing doctrine. They were both transitional in character and rather unique. I prefer to stick with the clearer teachings concerning standard church practices.

    I forgot that 2 semesters make a year (NSTM has brainwashed me with “TRImesters” ;), so that’s great that you got two years of Hebrew in!! There must be certain OT writers who are easier to read, right? Have you read around in different books? I bet “Amos” would be easier. (Did I just slam shepherds?) As you probably know, in the NT John is an easier author, but Luke’s vocabulary was rather expansive, and his literary style was completely different from John’s – making him really interesting, but harder.

  5. Ian says:


    I’m really not trying to convince you of anything. However, with all respect, I must say that I couldn’t disagree with you more on your consideration of Acts and I Corinthians.

    Acts gives account of the time that God said ‘this is My church, these are My Apostles who I will send to establish and increase it, and these are My words to My people in My church through them.’ It contains wonderful doctrine (Acts 15 not doctrinal?!). It lays the footing upon which the rest of the epistles are grounded in. It is not transistional, rather it is foundational.

    I know that you acknowledge II Tim 3:16, but I can’t help but think it is inconsistant to hold the opinion that certain books are not profitable for doctrine. If neither of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians were profitable for doctrine, then where were the Corinthians to draw their doctrine from? They couldn’t pick up the phone and call the church in Philippi. The Canon did not yet exists. All they had at the time were the Old Testament and Paul’s direct words and letters. We also have to remember that when we say “earlier”, we’re not talking hundreds of years earlier. Paul’s life span was nothing special. When we say “earlier”, were talking within the adult life of a man, less than one generation. That’s nothing. That being said, the fact that it is an earlier epistle, as I see it, qualifies it even more as being
    appropriate for doctrine as they had not much else to instruct them (not that it needs anymore qualification than II Tim 3:16). Also, wouldn’t the agreement with Paul’s words in I Cor 14 with his gnomic maxim in I Tim 2 qualify the I Cor as doctrinally sound, and therefore profitable for doctrine?

    I would also say that designating some scripture as “non-doctrinal” creates a dangerous incongruency in the Scriptures. Though certain situations addressed in one epistle or another may be unique to the audience, it does not make that book particular, or separate from the whole of Scripture. The principles and doctrine used by Paul to answer the problems of the Corinthians are the same principles and doctrine by which he exhorts Timothy. To say that Paul’s words of correction and warning to the church in Corinth, or the theology and doctrine found in the Council at Jerusalem and the Apostolic speeches recorded in Acts are not applicable to the rest of Scripture is dangerous. Galatians was written to a specific church in response to a specific problem, but would we ever discount the precious doctrine found in its pages? The Scriptures are harmonious, not fragmented.

    Please don’t misunderstand the tone of this comment. I’m not on the attack, rather I’m explaining why I disagree.

  6. Beth'sMomToo says:

    I suspect I’m not making myself clear enough here. (The downfall of blogs and emails, unfortunately.) I’m NOT saying there is NO doctrine ANYWHERE in Acts or 1Cor., but I AM saying not EVERYTHING in those books is standard practice for today OR makes as clear a case for a standard practice as might be found elsewhere.

    Look at Acts:
    The beginning church was centrally located in Jerusalem. Is that so as a standard practice today?

    God immediately killed Ananias & Saphira for lying to the HS. Does that mean it is a standard practice for today?

    Paul was bitten by a serpent and lived. Does that mean it’s a standard practice today to survive the venom of poinsonous snakes?

    THAT’S what I mean about it’s being a book of transition.

    Concerning 1Corinthians, the point I was trying to make is that we are only getting one side of the story, so to speak. And that can make it difficult to determine the parameters and the focus of Paul’s instructions in some instances. Who is the intended audience? Is it a specific rule for a particular person? Does it refer to a particular problem we may not know all the details about? Is it didactic for the general church? The first rule of interpretation is to interpret what it meant to the original person(s) written to, what the Primary meaning is. Application comes afterwards. If Jesus told His disciples to go out on the mission field of Palestine without any money or spare clothes, told them not to witness to Gentiles, but only to Israel (Mt.10:5-15), does that mean it’s a standard practice for all missionaries at all times in all places? It’s not. Are there any Applications? Sure. But it’s NOT the primary meaning to universally apply.

    In 1Cor.14:34-35 what did it mean to the original recipients? Did it mean women could prophesy and pray (apparently OK in 1Cor.11:5), but not interpret their prophesy? Did it mean they couldn’t be apostolic teachers? Did it mean they couldn’t be elders? Did it mean they couldn’t speak in tongues? Did it mean they couldn’t speak at all, ever, about anything? You see the problem of determining the exact significance and parameters. Are there things in 1Cor. that are universal doctrinal truths for standard practice, you betcha…I gave you a whole list of them!

    Now if I want to know “What is standard practice for the role of women in the Church?”…I would go right to 1Timothy, because it’s laid out clear as a bell!

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