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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rhetorical Questions

Ruud has posted on the topic of Paul's Hair on my bookshelf blog. Of course, we have no idea how long Paul's hair was when he had it cut. However, I thought that there might be a significant difference if he was taking a vow. Maybe he would shave his hair and then not have it cut again until he had fulfilled certain conditions. How long would that be, a month, a year? There is no indication.

However, a more grammatical issue is involved. Michael has recently brought up the possibility that certain expressions could be ironic, (verse 10) and that the intended meaning is the opposite of the plain text reading. Once again, how would we know for sure.

What about rhetorical questions? Is there no clear way in Greek to tell if something should be a rhetorical question? I don't have the answer. There seems to be some disagreement here. Could 1 Cor. 11: 4 - 5 read,

    Does each man [or husband] praying or prophesying having a draped head dishonor his head? Yet does each wife [or woman] praying or prophesying with the head uncovered [or against the uncovered head] dishonor her head? Is she [or he] surely one and the same with [or as] she who has been shorn?
If verses 13 - 15 could be rhetorical then maybe these verses also are. How can we tell? How do we know that one passage is a rhetorical question and another is not?

Update: These verses are taken from a translation proposed by Norman E. Anderson.

26 Comments:

At Thu May 18, 09:04:00 PM, Anonymous Ian Myles Slater said...

I can't answer this directly, but I had the impression that this would be a common feature of certain types of Greek compostion. Sure enough, there is short description of the classical use of the Rhetorical Question in Herber Weir Smyth's "Greek Grammar" (1920; revised 1956), Section 2640 (pages 596-7). It concludes that "The rhetorical question is much more favoured in Greek than in English." Unfortunately, the discussion seems limited to examples from Attic (Plato and orators), with no mention of the New Testament, let alone whether the same grammatical forms are used there to mark that the statement if being made in the form of a question.

The 1920 edition, as "A Greek Grammar for Colleges," which at this point is identical to the revised edition I have at hand, is available as a pdf at:
http://www.textkit.com/learn/ID/142/author_id/63/
(The passage in question begins on digital page 611.)

 
At Thu May 18, 09:40:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Suzanne wrote: Michael has recently brought up the possibility ... that the intended meaning is the opposite of the plain text reading.

Hello again, Suzanne. Here I see you are referring to my comments about 1 Cor. 11:10 in the other thread. But I wanted to say that you are misrepresenting my thoughts if you attribute to me the idea that some other interpretation of that verse may be called a "plain reading." Especially if by "plain reading" you mean the interpretation favored by Gordon Fee. A plain interpretation, in my view, must be one that makes sense in the context.

 
At Thu May 18, 09:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Michael,

I apologize if it came out sounding contrary. I didn't have in mind anything so explicit. I don't really know if there is any one possible 'plain reading' of this chapter. At this point, I feel as if I am back in the hunting and gathering stage. I would like to read more about rhetorical questions.

So I present this post to explore, once again, the tools that are available for learning more about rhetorical questions and irony.

Rather than promoting any particular interpretation, my interest is in establishing some of the instruments and guidelines that we can use.

I think we can all particpate in this. The question is, what signals are there that tell us if it is a rhetorical question? There is a traditional understanding, which I believe you support, but it is not without difficulties. One way or another the rhetorical question should be addressed.

 
At Fri May 19, 03:35:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I see a serious problem here. It is clear that 1 Corinthians is full of rhetorical questions, probably full of quotations from the Corinthians' letters to Paul, and very likely has some irony in it. But where? If everything in the letter is taken as Paul's direct and literal statements, the letter becomes self-contradictory in various ways. Therefore various people, on both sides of the gender etc debate, have found ways to get round what appears to be the plain sentence by sentence meaning of the text by declaring that certain passages are, or might well be, rhetorical questions, or quotations from the Corinthians' letter, or irony.

The problem is that by making different selections of passages to empty of normative authority in this way, they come up with radically different interpretations of the letter as a whole. In fact by this method they can make the letter say almost anything. And there must be at least a suspicion that some, on both sides, have decided in advance what they think the letter should mean and have selected which passages to empty of authority so as to fit their preconceived ideas.

So, are there any controls by which we can determine which passages are rhetorical questions, or quotations, or ironical, and so which overall interpretation is correct?

 
At Fri May 19, 06:33:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

The rule on irony is:

"If the speaker can't possibly mean what he is clearly saying he is being ironic." I'm being ironic. Get it?

 
At Fri May 19, 06:34:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Probably the most important control on our interpretation of individual sentences is the requirement that the interpretation should fit in the context of the larger discourse-unit. An individual sentence should not interpreted in such a way that the passage becomes incoherent or self-contradictory. This was my basic complaint about Welty's interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:14-15 in the other thread: it did not make sense in the larger context. In the passage, Paul is clearly urging the Corinthians to adhere to a headcovering rule, and it does not make sense to make him say at the end of the passage that "Nature in no way teaches you ..." that a headcovering is appropriate. And it seems clear to me that Welty's interpretation cannot even cohere with the immediately following sentence ("For her hair is given to her for a covering"). So his interpretation does not deserve much consideration. The interpretation in which we understand Paul to be asking a rhetorical question in 14-15 may call for some explanation -- regarding what he means by "nature" -- but it does fit in the rhetorical and grammatical context.

 
At Fri May 19, 07:23:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Ian,

Thanks for that text. I downloaded it but as you say, it doesn't give much more info on Rhetorical questions.
However, in reading Romans, and 1 Corinthians through it seems that the rheotrical questions are always marked by a following answer like Not at all. So I am going to review the ISV translation of this passage which makes no use of rhetorical questions or irony. The effect is that the secod half of the passage appears to contradict the first half. I believe that we should consider this first.

Michael,

what I am working towards is a completely literal interpretion first. Once this is established, it seems like a secondary step to then introduce the issue of irony and rhetoric. This would not be the first scripture in the Bible that appears to be contradictory, so I would want to go very slowly on assuming unmarked irony and rhetoric.

So in anwering my own question I am going to propose that neither verse 4 - 5 are rhetorical nor are verses 14 - 15. They are a true and intended contrast.

However, this doesn't mean disrespect for alternative proposals since this is a very difficult passage. There is a very long tradition of one particular interpretation which you uphold. But my desire here is not to uphold tradition but to read the text in its most grammatically direct sense first, even if it is the more difficult reading.

 
At Fri May 19, 07:25:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Another requirement of sound interpretation is that our interpretations should be plausible within the historical context. In our interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:2-16, we must take into account all the historical evidence which points unambiguously to a churchwide observance of a female headcovering rule. This custom generally corresponds to a Jewish custom which we know was prevalent at the time. In the earliest Christian literature we find that the writers do not look upon the passage as being problematic. They take it completely for granted that Paul is requiring a headcovering here. There is no indication that anyone dissented from this rather obvious understanding of the passage. The only question that seems to have arisen in ancient times was whether or not Paul required unmarried girls to observe the rule. If we have any respect for the ability of the Christians in ancient times to understand the things that were written to them, it is unreasonable to think that they all completely misunderstood the meaning of this passage. Personally, I think it is somewhat arrogant -- or at least immodest -- for any modern interpreter to imagine that the passage was misunderstood by the entire church up to our own generation. And I note that the new interpretations (such as Welty's) are suspiciously convenient to twentieth-century Western preferences in dress.

 
At Fri May 19, 09:08:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Michael wrote: "the interpretation should fit in the context of the larger discourse-unit. An individual sentence should not interpreted in such a way that the passage becomes incoherent or self-contradictory." And later: "our interpretations should be plausible within the historical context."

Fair enough, Michael. But Welty, if I understand him correctly, has put forward an alternative interpretation which is coherent and not self-contradictory, according to which the passage is NOT "urging the Corinthians to adhere to a headcovering rule". I forget the details, but I think that to do this he has to take other parts of the passage as not completely literal e.g. as rhetorical questions or irony. But then you do the same with different parts of the passage. So what makes his interpretation impossible and yours certainly true?

Perhaps you would point to the rule that "our interpretations should be plausible within the historical context." Yes, but that does not mean that they should agree with the general custom of the time, because there would have been no need to teach the original audience to do what they would automatically do from general custom. But the real problem is, how much do we actually know about the historical context? You claim that "a female headcovering rule ... generally corresponds to a Jewish custom which we know was prevalent at the time." But I had understood the opposite, that the Jewish rule was that men covered their heads while praying but women did not have to. At the very least the evidence on this seems to be confused.

You make the point that "the new interpretations (such as Welty's) are suspiciously convenient to twentieth-century Western preferences in dress." Perhaps. But the support you quote, from early Christian literature, is also suspiciously convenient to the general dress preferences of its time, and so should not be taken as a good guide to accurate exegesis of the passage. In every century there is a temptation to make Paul say what is least demanding in the cultural context. But that does not imply that that is what he said.

 
At Fri May 19, 10:07:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Speaking of irony, I just read the article on 1 Cor. 11 that Suzanne recently linked to on her book blog, and before I got half-way through the article it occured to me that the entire article is perhaps intended to be an ironical spoof of modern scholarship, along the lines of Frederick Crews' The Pooh Perplex. This thought occured to me because the article contains such things as this:

"Regarding the phrase, 'with her head uncovered' (verse 5): This is reading a dative of manner. However, it is possible that a different sort of dative was intended, such as a dative of disadvantage, in which case the phrase might be translated: 'against the uncovered head.'"

The author is suggesting that in verse 5 Paul may be asking the rhetorical question, "does each wife praying or prophesying against the uncovered head dishonor her head?" without indicating what answer Paul expects to this mystifying question. He interprets the preceding and following sentences as rhetorical questions also, with the idea that the expected answer is "no," and he suggests that the first sentence of verse 6 might also be a rhetorical question, but the implied answer there is again uncertain. So basically he invites the idea that we have a whole string of rhetorical questions here, with no clear indication of how some of them are to be answered, and perhaps a "dative of disadvantage" in verse 5, in which we must suppose that Corinthian women are prophesying against the uncovered heads of the men, Paul asking a question about whether it really disonors the men when the women do this. And so forth.

If the author is really serious about the suggestions he makes in his paper, and not satirizing the kind of unhinged scholarship that has arisen lately in some seminaries, then he has entered the realm of self-parody. This is what happens when people who lack common sense spend too much time alone in the study.

 
At Fri May 19, 10:07:00 AM, Anonymous Ian Myles Slater said...

Exactly when covering the head became a distinguishing religious obligation for Jewish men is apparently a difficult problem; the last time I checked, the consensus was that it was probably medieval.

In the Biblical text, it is mentioned in connection with contrition (2 Sam. 15:30) or shame (Jer. 14.3-4), and as a sign of (anticipated) mourning (Esther 6:12) which may indicate that it was somehow unusual enough to have symbolic associations. (In the former instance it is associated with bare feet, which might be read as indicating that it required differentiation from ordinary practice -- an historical survey of Jewish exegesis of the passage might turn up something relevant.)

There is consistent evidence that in Rabbinic times a respectable married woman normally kept her head covered in public (e.g., a man is brought into court charged with removing it). But the extent to which this was regarded as a religious obligation rather than the prevailing social norm, shared with the Gentiles, is apparently is also debatable. The traditional and obligatory nature of the practice is often assumed by those familiar with Eastern European Jewish customs, in which a woman cut her hair short at marriage, and thereafter wore a wig in public. But Cecil Roth pointed out that, during the Renaissance, Italian rabbis denounced Jewish women who, not being satisfied with the adornment provided by God, and following the practice of the Gentiles, wore wigs in public. Which suggests an entirely different set of assumptions at work in a different environnment.

 
At Fri May 19, 11:44:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Ian, I think you are basically on the right track in your comments regarding the ancient headcovering practices. I have done a bit of research on the subject, and my findings are given here. This is one area in which I have caught several otherwise respectable scholars making unsupportable assertions, and sometimes making statements that are demonstrably false. So we must go to the original sources for the facts, and not rely haphazardly upon secondary sources. In my perusal of many sources, I find that there was considerable variety in the ancient world concerning this practice of women (or men) covering their heads. The question can't be discussed profitably without making distinctions between different ethnic groups and time periods. I conclude that Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians correspond in a general way with Jewish practices of the time, though it appears that he has liberalized the Jewish custom somewhat by not requiring women to cover their faces. There is no good reason to think that the church's headcovering custom originated with him. It was an established custom when he came on the scene. He calls it a tradition, and he indicates that it was observed in all the churches. He only supplies the rationale for it in his letter to the Corinthians. I believe that some of the Corinthians needed this instruction because their own cultural preferences were different, and so they resisted adopting the custom of the churches. Probably they associated it with the restrictions of Judaism. The evidence suggests that Greek and Roman women of the first century were not bound by any uniform custom of headcovering.

Peter, you write, "the support you quote, from early Christian literature, is also suspiciously convenient to the general dress preferences of its time." But if by this you mean to imply that Tertullian was inclined to accommodate the churches to prevailing customs of dress outside of the church, this is not true. Tertullian wrote his treatise on the subject of headcoverings in the face of resistance in Carthage and in Rome. He states that women in Rome were improperly dressed, and he complains about the minimal observance of the headcovering rule in some churches (presumably in his area around Carthage), where some women did not entirely cover their hair, and where some young girls did not wear anything at all on their heads. But he demands observance of the rule, against the cultural practices of his time. He also criticized men for following current styles of dress in the non-Christian culture. Tertullian was one of the most "counter-cultural" writers of the early church, not an accommodating sort of person at all.

 
At Fri May 19, 04:09:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I don't know a lot about Tertullian, but I had tended to see him as representing an older, more conservative and austere cultural tradition resisting the imported modern fashions. A bit like you, Michael, in some ways. But were the customs he was supporting genuinely Christian, or were they simply those of an older culture? I could ask the same about you.

How do you square Paul's insistence (according to you) on Jewish head covering customs in Gentile churches with his insistence, recorded especially in Acts and Galatians, that Gentile Christians had been set free from bondage to Jewish laws and customs and were not to be bound by them? Or for that matter with the explicit apostolic instructions of Acts 15:19,20,28,29? There is no mention in these verses of head covering according to Jewish custom as a requirement for being a Christian.

 
At Fri May 19, 04:09:00 PM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

An interesting survey.

My own sense of the Rabbinic sources is that all too often is impossible to be sure if a statement that "X do Y" is an observation of the usual practice somewhere, sometime, a normative declaration to be enforced now and in the future, or merely an exhortation. I do think that the conclusion that head-covering for women was regarded as proper, and expected, is the most likely conclusion. But without a specific ruling in, say, the Mishnah or Tosefta, I would be inclined to accept an argument that it might have been ranked in later times as a *minhag,* a custom of the community, rather than as a Torah-based or exegetically-derived commandment. Which would allow for, e.g., the difference of opinion in Italy!

I should point minhag was regarded as perfectly binding in the places where it was observed; but not grounds for a legal generalization. Another example from Renaissance Italy was of a woman who served a shochet (ritual slaughterer), to the consternation of a visiting German rabbi.

He admitted he knew of no specific law prohibiting it, but was certain that it couldn't be permitted, because "I have never seen it" elsewhere. Joseph Karo, still regarded THE great legal authority, seems to have been unhappy about the situation too, but sternly admonished the protester to remember that "I have never seen it" is NOT regarded as a valid argument in Halacha, and that the community had to be allowed to meet its own needs. (I think Karo was more worried about whether she was physically strong enough for kashrut, and wasn't prepared to make a ruling on that from the land of Israel -- but my recollections are less than certain.)

 
At Fri May 19, 07:37:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I posted a few images from Women in the Classical World on my other blog. The veil is worn by Augustus, a freedwoman and a public priestess.

It's actually pretty hard to find a common theme.

I think Peter makes a good point that veiling is not mentioned in Acts 15. So either it was a custom that most Greek and Roman women had already, or it wasn't, and no one in Acts thought to mention it. Or it isn't all that relevent. There are only so many choices.

And why would women be asked to accept further limitations to freedom, when men are offered considerable latitude?

I am still interested in the rhetorical problem.

 
At Fri May 19, 11:48:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Peter wrote: I don't know a lot about Tertullian ... were the customs he was supporting genuinely Christian, or were they simply those of an older culture?

Peter, It may very well be that Tertullian was a naturally conservative man, but he presents the headcovering rule as a teaching of the apostle Paul, not as a custom that depends upon some non-biblical spirit of cultural conservatism. And it's not just Tertullian, it's the early church in general that held this to be Paul's teaching. There is no trace of a conflicting interpretation in ancient times. I think this really ought to make you hesitate.

How do you square Paul's insistence (according to you) on Jewish head covering customs in Gentile churches with his insistence, recorded especially in Acts and Galatians, that Gentile Christians had been set free from bondage to Jewish laws and customs and were not to be bound by them? Or for that matter with the explicit apostolic instructions of Acts 15:19,20,28,29? There is no mention in these verses of head covering according to Jewish custom as a requirement for being a Christian.

I think your expression "set free from bondage to Jewish laws and customs" is a bit sweeping and prejudicial, because it tends to throw everything that can be identified with Judaism in the trash. I think it's more accurate to say that he insisted on complete freedom from the Jewish laws that effectively prevented any successful mission to the Gentiles. Being circumcised as an adult is quite different from being circumcised on the eighth day, you know. And the Jewish dietary laws and customs made life very inconvenient for a someone living in the midst of Gentiles. It was impossible for his converts to observe the sabbath, because their employers were Gentiles who required them to work. And how could he tell his converts in Greece that they must all go to Jerusalem to observe the Passover? There could have been no mission to the Gentiles if he required them to observe these laws and customs. And the basis for the end of these observances had already been provided by his teaching about justification by grace alone, through faith, as in the case of Abraham. He was especially interested in scotching the idea that these things were necessary for salvation, as some people were apparently teaching. But he was not opposed to the Law in such a way that he regarded it as worthless. The Law was given for our benefit, and it continues to be a guide for Christian living. And so we do observe one day in seven, after the pattern of the Law, if it is possible for us to do it. This is something Paul did also. And he often refers to statements in the Law as a guide for Christian life. In addition to the Law, he also urges the observance of his own rules and instructions, and of the apostolic traditions of worship. Many of these things were not mentioned in the apostolic decree in Acts 15, but that does not take away their validity. The Christian life has never been a life uninformed by many laws and customs. So in my thinking about these things, there is no difficulty about the fact that the headcovering practice urged in 1 Cor. 11 probably derives from the Jewish customs observed by the first Jewish Christians. I see many things in Paul's instructions that are clearly related to Jewish customs and old Testament laws. Customs that are Jewish in origin are not disqualified from becoming rules in the churches. If Paul's headcovering instruction relates to a custom that is Jewish in origin, it doesn't matter. It's not as if he were making salvation depend upon it. It is only a salutary practice, designed to express and reinforce a teaching about Christian womanhood.

 
At Sat May 20, 02:43:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Michael, I don't accept that Paul's insistence on Christian freedom from the Law of Moses, and from Jewish practices taught as if they were part of the Law, was only a matter of expediency, and so should be limited to "the Jewish laws that effectively prevented any successful mission to the Gentiles". i.e. those matters in which it is expedient. For Paul it was a matter of deep and basic Christian principle, and so it should be for us.

But if Paul's principle was "complete freedom from the Jewish laws that effectively prevented any successful mission to the Gentiles", then in the context of the modern world that principle should surely be put into practice as including freedom from any laws about head covering, for to require women to cover their heads in the 21st century, at least in any Western culture, "effectively prevent[s] any successful mission to the Gentiles", or for that matter to modern westernised Jews.

So, choose for yourself, were Paul's teachings on these matters points of principle or issues of expediency? You can't have your cake and eat it on this one.

Meanwhile perhaps a better example of what I had in mind is given in Colossians 2:8-23, where Paul clearly teaches Christian freedom from Jewish as well as pagan religious customs. He would be highly inconsistent to insist to the Corinthians on Jewish head covering customs. That is one reason why I am convinced that your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 is wrong. It is of course well known that the early church quickly fell away from Paul's high standards in this matter into the fringes of legalism and gnosticism. That would explain why early church authors interpreted 1 Corinthians 11 in a way which is utterly foreign to Paul's general teaching on Christian liberty.

 
At Sat May 20, 08:19:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Peter wrote: I don't accept that Paul's insistence on Christian freedom from the Law of Moses, and from Jewish practices taught as if they were part of the Law, was only a matter of expediency ..

That's not what I meant. It was not only a matter of expediency. It was a matter of principle, if anyone felt that such observances were necessary for salvation. But are you saying that because he taught that we are justified by faith, it's impossible that Paul could have then supported any custom or practice that has its roots in Judaism? What will you do about the Lord's Supper, then? This originated as a Passover meal. Do you think Paul should have had something against it because it has a precedent in Judaism? What about the ten commandments? Are they too "Jewish" for you? What about the apostolic decree of Acts 15, which you mentioned yesterday?

"That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality."

Clearly the first three stipulations here concern observances of the Law and customs of the Jews. Yet Paul supported this decree, and we see his support for it in 1 Corinthians, where he explains the prohibition of "things sacrificed to idols."

Your philosophical alternatives, "points of principle or issues of expediency," represent a false disjunction that ignores what Paul actually did and taught.

You write: It is of course well known that the early church quickly fell away from Paul's high standards in this matter into the fringes of legalism and gnosticism.

I think it's ironic that you should mention Gnosticism in this connection, because your own position is practically identical to that of Marcion, the Gnostic sect leader of the second century. He also claimed to be the true interpreter of Paul, and maintained that Paul was misunderstood in the churches at large, by people who had retrogressed to Judaism. He would have nothing to do with the Old Testament, or with customs or rules that he associated with the Jews. In his opinion, Paul was opposed to all things Jewish. This teaching arose because Marcion and others in the second century wanted to be consistent, like you, in rejecting anything that was associated with Judaism.

... That would explain why early church authors interpreted 1 Corinthians 11 in a way which is utterly foreign to Paul's general teaching on Christian liberty.

And this is also ironic, because here you absolutize Paul's "general teaching on Christian liberty" in the same way that the Corinthian trouble-makers did. "All things are lawful," they declared, on the basis of his teaching regarding Christian liberty. But they misunderstood him, because, as he says to them, "not all things are helpful." You must get a more nuanced understanding of Paul if you think his idea of liberty prevented him from establishing any rules or supporting any traditional customs.

 
At Sat May 20, 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

But Paul agreed with the Corinthians that "all things are lawful"! (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23). That is the basic principle which he shared with them. However, he insisted that not all things are helpful or expedient, and that Christian behaviour should be not to make full use of one's freedom but to do what is expedient for God's work. Thus Christian freedom could be limited not by rules, but only by expediency. Now it was expedient in the cultural conditions of his time to avoid eating meat known to be sacrificed to idols in the home of an unbeliever, even though it was OK to do so in one's own home (10:24-30). Similarly it may have been expedient in the cultural conditions to have suitable hairstyles and headgear (11:4-15 on your interpretation, note how closely this follows 10:23). But on this argument this was something culturally conditioned, and so something which can and should be abandoned in this age in which such rules are not expedient but actually damaging to the witness of the church.

Maybe in some sense I am the Marcion to your Tertullian! - the radical to your conservative. But you misunderstand me if you think that I am rejecting the Old Testament and all things Jewish as Marcion did. Far from it! We have a wonderful heritage from the Jews. It is just that their customs are not binding on Christians - even though for expediency, to avoid excessive offence, the apostles did require Gentile believers to "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality." Nevertheless, there is clear historical evidence of some retrogression in the church in the second century, and of some failure to understand the teaching of Paul and the other apostles. I don't think this is the place to go into this in any detail.

 
At Sat May 20, 12:19:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Peter wrote: But Paul agreed with the Corinthians that "all things are lawful"! (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23). That is the basic principle which he shared with them. However, he insisted that not all things are helpful or expedient, and that Christian behaviour should be not to make full use of one's freedom but to do what is expedient for God's work.

With minor reservations I agree with you so far, if in "expedient for God's work" you would include the things that promote mature discipleship, and not only the expediencies of outside missionary work. When Paul spoke of what is "helpful" or "expedient" in 1 Corinthains chapter 6, he was not talking about the expediencies of the missionary work. He was talking about discipleship, maturity in the faith, and the whole Christian life. The nature of the things he mentions in this chapter ought to be noticed.

... Thus Christian freedom could be limited not by rules, but only by expediency.

Would you care to argue that when Paul speaks of fornication under the heading of things that are not "helpful" in chapter 6, he does not intend for anyone to see this as a rule against fornication? I think you are trying to make a distinction here that simply can't be upheld exegetically.

... Now it was expedient in the cultural conditions of his time to avoid eating meat known to be sacrificed to idols in the home of an unbeliever, even though it was OK to do so in one's own home (10:24-30).

In his discussion of this matter he does argue that it is expedient to avoid offending others, in the verses that you cite. But you should also notice that in 10:1-23 he gives another reason why the Corinthians should not partake of food sacrificed to idols: it is not beneficial for them. Notice especially verses 12, 14, and 20-22. And then in 23 we have the summary, "not all things are beneficial ... not all things are edifying." His concern here is with their own edification and benefit, not merely an avoidance of offending others.

... Similarly it may have been expedient in the cultural conditions to have suitable hairstyles and headgear (11:4-15 on your interpretation, note how closely this follows 10:23). But on this argument this was something culturally conditioned ...

Yes it was culturally conditioned, but the question is, what culture? If the answer is, "the culture of the church," as I maintain, the implications are quite different from the ones you suggest.

... and so something which can and should be abandoned in this age in which such rules are not expedient but actually damaging to the witness of the church.

Here you are looking at the matter from the standpoint of an outsider, but does Paul do that in 1 Cor. 11:2-16? No, he does not. He presents this rule as one which belongs to the churches, not as one which is expedient for relations with those who are outside the church. It seems to me that you are trying to roll diverse kinds of rules together into one "expediency" lump and attribute it all to the purpose of avoiding offence to outsiders. But that is not how Paul discusses these matters. Much of the time he is speaking about things that are "beneficial" quite aside from the one reason you are focusing on.

... Maybe in some sense I am the Marcion to your Tertullian! - the radical to your conservative. But you misunderstand me if you think that I am rejecting the Old Testament and all things Jewish as Marcion did. Far from it! We have a wonderful heritage from the Jews.

I wonder about the attitude of many people in the churches, who do not openly reject the Old Testament (and portions of the New Testament) as Marcion did, but who seem to be disciples of Marcion in every other respect. And there are some in the churches who are bold enough in this attitude that they actually do say disparaging things about the Old Testament. They will not acknowledge a God who makes such "rules" for his people.

It is just that their customs are not binding on Christians - even though for expediency, to avoid excessive offence, the apostles did require Gentile believers to "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality."

I want to point out the last rule there, concerning immorality, which clearly is not given only "to avoid excessive offence." And probably the apostles who issued this decree considered all of these things to be spiritually dangerous, and would have explained them along the lines of Paul's explanation in 10:1-23. I'm not satisfied with your attempt to explain all these instructions in terms of avoiding offence to others. Paul uses that argument for certain rules in his epistles, but it is not the only argument. He also offers rules for the benefit of Christians, for the edification of the church. So don't be so quick to attribute everything to a passing cultural "expediency." Look at what Paul actually says about various things, and consider the possibility that this inspired author really does have your spiritual benefit in mind.

 
At Sat May 20, 03:26:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Michael, I am prepared to accept that such things as abstaining from food sacrificed to idols may have been considered, and may actually be, spiritually beneficial to the person doing so, and not just a matter of avoiding offending or confusing outsiders. My point was not to focus only on others. The issue is not just of maintaining witness to outsiders but also of building up the church. So I wanted to to point out that these are not arbitrary rules but matters of real benefit to someone. Even avoiding fornication is not an arbitrary rule but one given for the benefit of both parties. I accept that there is a fine line here between what is beneficial and what must be taken as obligatory for all Christians. But I don't see that there are any arbitrary rules which are considered obligatory for all regardless of expediency, certainly not even when they go against expdiency.

So, would you want to argue that there is real spiritual benefit to a woman to cover her hair during worship and/or to have long hair? Is Paul trying to teach that? I suppose that could be what the bit about the angels is about. But it seems to me that on your interpretation Paul is teaching an arbitrary rule, one which may have been beneficial for some in his own culture, but if applied in the modern setting helps neither to build up the church nor in its witness to outsiders. I can accept that Paul might teach such rules as culture-bound and so with limited applicability. But it would go against his basic theology to insist on them as applying to all churches for ever.

 
At Sun May 21, 02:41:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Peter wrote: .. it seems to me that on your interpretation Paul is teaching an arbitrary rule, one which may have been beneficial for some in his own culture, but if applied in the modern setting helps neither to build up the church nor in its witness to outsiders.

You may have a point there, but I don't think practical issues of modern application should be allowed to influence our exegesis of the text. This is very common in pulpit exposition. I know the temptations, because I am not a hermit-scholar, I am involved in practical ministry. But a scholar really must go back to the original setting and interpret the text there, and resist the temptation to construe things so that they clearly point to some inoffensive modern application. We should especially avoid the temptation to just explain things away when we can see no possibility of a modern application.

I've heard people suggest that an adequate modern application of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 is the wearing of a wedding ring. Grudem promotes that view. It's designed to be entirely inoffensive, of course, but I don't think it's adequate. Men wear wedding rings too. Daniel Wallace suggests that an adequate modern application is made when women wear "a modest dress" to church. That's much better. Obviously Paul's rule is violated by women who won't dress like women. But there's no application as good as a hat or scarf, and the only reason that's out of favor today is -- it's not current fashion. I see a problem there, because this may also have been the reason why some Corinthian women did not want to wear a headcovering. It was perhaps not fashionable at the time. So do we allow this excuse now, if there is a good chance that Paul did not allow it then? If we was promoting a Christian custom, and not "prevailing customs," this means that we should also be promoting Christian customs. I think that is what we need to do.

In any case, we need to stop telling people in the churches that Paul wants them to conform to prevailing customs of the secular culture. This is a spiritually dangerous teaching, and it stems from a false interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11. I'm convinced that he is not saying that in this passage, and I do not believe he would say it.

 
At Sun May 21, 02:58:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Well, Michael, while I can agree with you in considering Grudem's and Wallace's applications of this passage as inadequate, I would not go as far as calling them spiritually dangerous. But if we can't be sure what the passage means, and teaching a bad interpretation is spiritually dangerous, the safest course is not to teach this passage at all! Unfortunately we Bible translators don't have that luxury as we would not be allowed to leave the passage out completely. So we have to come to decisions e.g. on what is to be translated as a question. But we can leave matters of application to others.

 
At Sun May 21, 07:24:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Peter,

You may be surprised to learn how many passages there are in the epistles of Paul where there are significant disagreements about the right interpretation and application. It's not often that you will find all the commentators and theologians in agreement. And the disagreements are often rather serious, involving major points of doctrine. This was true even in the sixteenth century, and the situation grows worse every year. So your suggestion that we be silent where there is a disagreement is not practical. Are you going to refrain from promoting an interpretation you think is correct because I disagree with it? And more important, are you going to refrain from translating the Bible in accordance with your interpretations, because I disagree with them? I doubt it. And that's why I am so skeptical about your "dynamic equivalence" approach to translation, in which you purpose to interpret the Bible for the common reader. This method of translation, and the versions produced by it, will never be uncontroversial.

 
At Sun May 21, 07:46:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I just noticed that Euangelion has a good post about Rhetoric in Paul. Something to look into.

 
At Mon May 22, 03:08:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Michael, I am not that surprised about disagreements over Paul, because I have studied New Testament to MA level and have worked on translation of Paul's letters. So I am aware that there are many interpretive issues. I am also aware that whatever translation technique is used a translator usually has to make a choice of preferred interpretation - at least if the translation is to be at all clear, and not simply left full of transliterated Greek or Latin words which have zero meaning to readers who are not theologically trained. In fact even these transliterations are controversial. Therefore no translation will be uncontroversial. Do you remember the controversy about the RSV and "expiation"? ESV has proved extremely controversial, and so has TNIV for reasons which are nothing to do with "dynamic equivalence". Bible translation of any style will never be uncontroversial. Does that mean we should abandon it?

 

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