Scriptural Authority: A Test Case

Here's Paul, or perhaps some member(s) of his group, in I Tim. 2:

12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

"Continue in faith" might be contrued from the earlier passage:

3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5Forthere is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind,Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time.

That's a quick summary of the kerygma. Moreover, my NRSV source tells me "woman" might well refer to wives, and "man" to husbands. On a plain sense/grammatical reading with a little splash of lower criticism from my NRSV editors, I Timothy implies faith, even with love et al, is insufficient for the salvation of a wife. That is, a woman who gets married and does not bear a child is damned. It's not just a sin; salvation itself seems precluded, as if a necessary condition were being denied. Logically, this might be regimented:

for any wife x, if x is saved, then x continues in faith, ..., and bears a child.

Further, "bear a child" has a plain sense here which, taken strictly, excludes C-sections--something which could not have been intended by Paul or his school. Indeed, the text, namely

11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

alludes to the Genesis creation stories, setting a context for verse 15. It seems wives are obliged to bear children, suffering the curse from Genesis on childbearing. To bear children while evading the curse seems to be a sin, a sin of such magnitude the wife's salvation is endangered, even lost if she does not have at least one child "the natural way." One imagines I Tim. would have quite sternly disapproved of pain medication for childbearing wives.
Of course, my exegesis is ridiculous. I suppose one might "bite the bullet" and insist that I did get it right, and what seems like foolishness to degraded "Greeks" like me is holy wisdom from God; I just don't have the ears to hear it. But that seems farfetched, even in view of Scripture itself. One would have expected such a condition to show up in other discussions of salvation prima facie giving necessary conditions; that it does not show up counts decisively against my plain sense reading. Suppose my reading is off somehow; well, what went wrong?

Maybe I missed the plain sense, particulary in how I regimented the text above. I'd like to see a plausible plain sense alternative respecting the cognitive and expressive limits of the author(s). Perhaps contrary plain sense readings would stretch the plain sense of "plain sense," bringing in covert, speculative opinions to defuse what otherwise seems incredible.

Or maybe I did not miss the plain sense--maybe I expressed roughly what the human author(s) intended while writing at the time--but what the author(s) intended is not the Scriptural significance that God would wish one to take away from the text. In other words, perhaps the human author(s) made an instructive mistake, as Plato seems to have portrayed Socrates making instructive mistakes (e.g. at the end of Republic I). Thus, mistakes would not invalidate the text, but would partially constitute its validity; we are supposed to know better on the basis of more important scriptural principles gleaned elsewhere, like in verses 5-6. The plain sense would not necessarily be the sense Scripture carries.

My point: any method of interpretation that cannot handle this passage is incomplete. Can the Separatists, who are committed to a plain sense hermeneutic, handle it? I'm not sure: maybe a skilled pen could produce a plausible exegesis.

No comments:

Post a Comment