A Commentary by John Stott

1 Timothy 2:8-15. a). Hermeneutical principles (continued).

I acknowledge that this reconstruction is coherent and ingenious, and evidences great learning and profound reflection. By it each of the seven or more constituent parts of verses 11-15 has been reinterpreted in reference to the heretical ideas which were probably circulating at that time. When I had finished the book, however, I had a strong sense of ‘overkill’. Does this text really have nothing normative to say about the relations between men and women? Have those words ‘authority’ and ‘submission’ (11-12) been evacuated of any contemporary significance? Surely, there is still something left in the complementarity of our created sexuality which God intends for the enrichment of our human experience? As Dr Dick France concedes, even though it runs against his main thesis, ‘the New Testament reveals…a wide-ranging concept of “order” (*taxis*) which God has designed for human society at many levels’, and which demands ‘submission’ (*hypotage*), including that of a wife to her husband in marriage. ‘To submit is to recognize your place within the God-given order of society, and to act appropriately to that place, by accepting the authority of those to whom God has entrusted it.’

It is this which leads Dr. J.I.Packer to express his continuing conviction ‘that the man-woman relationship is intrinsically non-reversible… This is part of the reality of creation, a given fact that nothing will change. Certainly, redemption will not change it, for grace restores nature, not abolishes it.’ He therefore supports the proposal that we should ‘theologize reciprocity, spiritual equality, freedom for ministry, and mutual submission and respect between men and women – within this framework of non-reversibility… It is important that the cause of *not* imposing on women restrictions which Scripture does not impose should not be confused with the quite different goals of minimizing the distinctness of the sexes as created and of diminishing the male’s inalienable responsibilities in man-woman relationships as such.’ I fully agree.

The danger of declaring any passage of Scripture to have only local (not universal), and only transient (not perpetual) validity as that it opens the door to a wholesale rejection of apostolic teaching, since virtually the whole of the New Testament was addressed to specific situations. Whenever we can show that an instruction related to a particular context, shall we then limit it to that context and declare it irrelevant to all others? For example, the command to be ‘subject to rulers and authorities (Tit. 3:1) was addressed to Cretans whose rebellious spirit was proverbial (Tit.1:12), does it therefore not apply to non-Cretans? We might similarly agree that what Paul wrote about homosexual practice, simplicity of lifestyle, the uniqueness of Christ, world evangelization and many other topics was fine for his day. But times have changed, we belong to different cultures, and (some would add) we know more about these things than he did. So what he wrote has no authority over us.

So far, I have suggested that we should reject the two opposite extremes in relation to the cultural element in the biblical revelation. We might call them ‘literalism’ (enthroning both) and ‘liberalism’ (dismissing both). The third and mediating position is ‘cultural transposition’. For this we have to discern in Scripture between God’s essential revelation (which is changeless) and its cultural expression (which is changeable). Then we are in a position to preserve the former as permanent and universal, and transpose the latter into contemporary cultural terms. Thus, in response to Jesus’ command to us to wash one another’s feet, we neither obey literally and go round washing people’s feet, nor dismiss the passage as having no relevance to us, but discern what is intrinsic (no service will be too menial if we love one another) and then transpose it into the realities of today (we will gladly wash the dishes or clean the toilet).

Tomorrow: 1 Timothy. 2:8-15. a). Hermeneutical principles (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.