What have the Pastoral Epistles ever done for us?

Gerald Bray is Research Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. He has recently published the International Theological Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles with T and T Clark. I asked him about the contribution of the Pastorals to our understanding of Paul, theology and ministry.

IP: The so-called Pastoral Letters of Paul are often marginalised, both in the church and in scholarship, in part because they are perceived to be at some distance from the ‘centre’ of Paul’s thought. What do you think the Pastorals add to our understanding of Paul and his view of ministry?

GB: The common search for a ‘centre’ to Paul’s thought is rather unfortunate, in my opinion. Paul was not so much a theologian as a correspondent, sending letters as and when they were needed to meet various circumstances. It is only natural that those circumstances should vary from time to time and from place to place. If we take the view that the letters were part of his ministry, then it seems to me that it is that ministry which is their proper ‘centre’, and if that is the case, the Pastorals have at least some claim to being the most central letters of all.

The Pastorals are addressed to individuals rather than to churches, although it is clear from their contents that they were meant to be read to the churches too. They show that the apostle envisaged a structured ministry in the congregations that he founded, and that the primary duty of that ministry was to remain faithful to the original message of the gospel. They demonstrate that Paul was not a hit-and-run evangelist, but someone with a clear strategy who looked towards the future as well as dealing with the present. They also show that he was concerned with every aspect of congregational life and believed that he had a message for all the different groups that could be found in a local church.

IP: Historically, academic scholarship has been sceptical about Pauline authorship. What do you think are the main arguments for these letters as genuinely written by Paul? Are these arguments now gaining traction in the academy?

GB: Historical doubts about the authorship of the Pastorals go back no further than Friedrich Schleiermacher, who claimed that 1 Timothy was pseudepigraphal. Before that time their authenticity was never questioned, and they are quoted or alluded to as early as the second century, well before most of the other New Testament books.

Doubts about Pauline authorship are based on their style, which is rather different from most of the other Pauline letters, and their content, which is said to reflect a post-apostolic phase of the church’s development. It is also claimed that there are a number of words in them that were not in circulation in the first century, though that is difficult to prove and epigraphical evidence has shown that this is not really the case. Most of the vocabulary is now known to have been in use in Paul’s day, even if it is not present, or not very frequent, in literary texts of that period. The ancient literary tradition is generally conservative, so we must not take the first appearance of a word in a particular text as an indication that the word did not exist before then.

The arguments for Pauline authorship are many. First, the fact that the letters differ to some degree from the other Pauline writings may either indicate that Paul was using a different secretary (amanuensis) or that he was writing them himself – my preferred solution. A pseudepigrapher would take care to sound as Pauline as possible, and would probably avoid such obvious giveaways as writing to individuals instead of to churches, as Paul generally did. It is also hard to see why a pseudepigrapher would go to the trouble of writing three separate letters, instead of just one. 1 Timothy and Titus, in particular, are similar enough that it seems strange that anyone would indulge in such unnecessary repetition. There is also the fact that the letters were written at a time when the organisation of local churches had not progressed beyond what the apostles themselves knew. If they had been written at a later time their anachronisms would have been obvious to the recipients. The situation described in them would either have been of post-apostolic origin (and known to be so) or no longer relevant, which would have removed any purpose in writing the way Paul did.

If the letters did not circulate before the second century it might be possible to argue that the first readers were distant from the time of Paul himself and ignorant of the circumstances in which he ministered, but what about Timothy and Titus? There would surely have been many people still alive who would have known them, and been able to vouch for the authenticity (or otherwise) of the letters. The texts themselves point to a much earlier date than has generally been accepted, and of course, the further back this date is pushed, the more likely it is that Paul himself was their author.

The academy has been slow to get to grips with the problem of authorship and for the most part, New Testament surveys are content merely to repeat the received ‘consensus’. But those who have studied the texts most closely – William Mounce, Luke Timothy Johnson and Philip Towner – all agree on Pauline authorship, despite their different approaches and backgrounds. It is not too much to say that those who have worked most closely with the texts are the ones who are most convinced of their Pauline origin. The ‘academy’, however one defines it, ought to take note of that.

IP: Ben Witherington makes the case, on the basis of style and grammar, that Luke had a hand in the writing of these letters. Do you think that this is a persuasive suggestion? Why (not)?

I am agnostic about this, for the simple reason that there is no evidence one way or the other. Luke and Paul worked closely together at different times, so Luke may well have been involved in writing the Pastorals. Who can say? Style and grammar are difficult to use as ‘proof’, partly because of the amanuensis question and partly because colleagues often end up talking much like each other, especially when they are together for months and even years on end. I am inclined to doubt Luke’s authorship (assuming they are pseudepigraphal) because Luke would not have needed to hide his identity in that way. In the Acts of the Apostles he did not hesitate to tell the world what Paul said, thought and did, so why could he not just have said something like: ‘Before he died, Paul told me this…’ and gone on from there?

IP: Evangelical interpretation of 1 Tim 2:11-15 has been deeply divided for some time. What are the main interpretive issues here? Do you think there is a possibility of rapprochement for interpreters on either side of the divide?

GB: Evangelical interpreters have been divided since the 1970s (or so), but almost entirely because of the issues raised by feminism and women’s ministry in today’s church. Some are prepared to say that Paul (or more likely the pseudepigrapher) was simply wrong about women and can be ignored on the subject. Others think that he was a man of his time and writing for people who shared his general outlook on life, but that this is no longer where we are today and so we must read the text in the light of wider developments foreshadowed though not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, which they call its ‘trajectory’. Their favourite comparison is with slavery – we do not advocate that today, but (usually) accept that it was a reality in ancient times that the apostles had to live with, even if they might have preferred something else. Then, of course, there are those who cling to the traditional line and continue to interpret the text as it has been read for centuries.

My view is that the text must be read as it stands, whether we like what it says or not. Paul’s view of the relationship between men and women is based on two theological principles. The first of these is creation and the second is the fall. The man was created before the woman and the woman was the instrument Satan used to deceive the man. This is straight out of Genesis 2-3 and should not occasion any disagreement. The male is given certain leadership responsibilities, but (as the fall demonstrated) he is weak in some ways, particularly in his susceptibility to the female, and he must be protected against this. The Bible is full of examples of great men brought down by the seduction of women – Samson, Solomon, Ahab and so on. Once again, this seems incontrovertible to me.

The real question is whether, or in what way, this teaching should apply to the church’s ministry today. We must remember that if we dissent from Paul’s teaching on the subject, we are rejecting the Biblical world view of creation and the fall, and if we do that, we are denying the gospel of salvation too, because salvation is the remedy for the fall and operates within the context of creation.

I do not know what chance there is of a reconciliation between the opposing sides on the interpretation of this text, but I would suggest that unless we start with a dispassionate examination of what it says, we shall never get anywhere. The theological principles undergirding it need to be brought back to the fore, hard as that may be. We also have to get away from the emotionally-charged issues surrounding the role of women in the church, which is not easy either.

IP: Your commentary is in the T and T Clark ‘International Theological Commentary’ series. What is contributed by a ‘theological’ interpretation of Scripture, and in particular of the Pastorals?

GB: ‘Theological commentary’, rather like ‘Biblical theology’, means different things to different people. To me, it means that there is a coherent mind and message in the Biblical texts, and that particular passages reveal one or more aspects of that. The Pastoral Letters cannot be interpreted on their own, as if the rest of the Bible did not exist. Paul was obviously basing himself on the Old Testament and even says so explicitly (2 Tim 3:16). A theological interpreter must therefore seek out what the universal world view of Scripture is and interpret particular texts in the light of that. (See my remarks on 1 Tim 2:11-15 above for an example of what that entails.) He or she must also remember that God is eternal and that his mind does not change. This means that earlier generations of commentators have a right to be heard – reliable interpretation did not begin with the Enlightenment. It also means that there must be a level of understanding that is still meaningful today and that will remain so until the end of time, since past, present and future are one in the mind of God. Finally, theological interpretation must consider the texts as divine revelation and accept that in the final analysis, God is revealing himself in and through them. That is the perspective that I have tried to maintain in my commentary – to know God and to make him known.

IP: What are the particular messages that the church needs to hear from the Pastorals in our current context? What did you learn most from writing this commentary?

GB: The church today needs to remember that it is a fellowship of those who have been called to the marriage feast of the Lamb, for which we are being made ready. We are children of God, born again into a new world in which the old human way of thinking has been overturned. There are different roles in the church and godly order requires them to be played by the right people, but ultimately the criteria for all church members are basically the same. We are all called to be godly men and women, living in a way that does justice to our profession of faith. Paul does not talk about the overseer (episkopos), the deacons or even the widows in terms of their function, but puts the emphasis on their spiritual character, which is essentially the same in all cases. They must be the right kind of people, and if they are, God can and will use them as he sees fit.

The church must also remember that it is liable to be led astray by good (but secondary) matters just as much as by openly false teaching. Genealogies were important to Jewish people and so it is not surprising to find them mentioned in the Pastorals, but they were a distraction from the main message and giving people a false sense of ‘learning’ when they were ignorant of the most basic truths of the gospel.

The church must also learn that its duty is to ‘guard the deposit’ handed down to us from the apostles, and not move off in new directions that were unknown to (and would have been repudiated by) them. We do not have to be dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, but neither can we throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have to remember that in every generation there will be those who will try to pervert the gospel from within and we must stand against them. The traumas of the current church situation are too obvious to need rehearsing here, and we must stand firm against every temptation to dilute the message of salvation. Our numbers may drop as a result, but as Gideon discovered, it is better to have 300 crack troops than 1000 who are not prepared to wage the spiritual warfare that is our earthly calling.

What have I learned from the Pastorals? So many things! But I think the most important of them is that God cares about every church member because we all belong to him. Because of that, we also belong to one another. The apostolic teaching binds us together and liberates us for the tasks at hand. As a child of God I may be called to perform different functions in the church, but I have no right to think that I am better than anyone else, no right to lord it over them and no right to shirk my duty because I somehow imagine that I have been made for better things. To sum it all up, I have learned that the Pastorals are to a considerable degree an extended application of the principles enunciated in 1 Corinthians 12-14, and it is in the light of them that I try to interpret the plan of God, both for me and for my brothers and sisters in his family the church.

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31 thoughts on “What have the Pastoral Epistles ever done for us?”

  1. I’d wave a flag for methodology. My procedure was:

    (1) To chart the significant features of the Pastorals of the sort that might have bearing in determining historical context, time/circumstances of composition.

    (2) Then see if there was a simple hypothesis that covered these.

    (3) And then thirdly see if that hypothesis covered these several degrees better than its nearest competitor or only one or two degrees better.

    The relevant data included:

    -The fact that while echoes of the earlier Paulines are not ubiquitous, where they do appear they can be extremely close. JAT Robinson said this of Php/2Tim, yet his deduction from it to common authorship (something he invested much in, to judge from correspondence) was not logical, since closeness can also be attributed to use of a source.

    -The fact that this closeness to one particular passage or letter (rather than to Paul’s whole brain and thinking, since the Pastorals do not read like Paul much of the time) is also found in the words in Paul’s mouth in e.g. Acts 26 speech (Colossians) and Acts 20 speech (Ephesians and 1 Thess) provides additional support for the idea that we have here the use of or familiarity with sources. Aageson sees almost a one to one correspondence of 2 Tim with Php, 1 Tim with 1 Cor (I concur) and Titus with Gal ( I do not concur). The 1 Tim/1 Cor thing therefore provides more evidence along the same lines. It is beginning to look like the collection of Paul’s 10 letters was issued by the 80s or so. This might help explain 2 Ptr (which I date to the 80s) as well as what we find in Acts 20,26 and the Pastorals.

    -But we also find the same in 2 Tim on Paul’s 3 cities of persecution (of which Timothy would not need to be reminded – in fact he would not have been accompanying Paul in all 3 locations at so early a date, whereas the reference works well as a summary of the Acts account).

    -It is remarkable that the style is as Lukan as it is Pauline (or vice versa). It has no business to be. I do not see any way of explaining that apart from (a) Luke being given free rein by Paul or (b) Luke writing ‘in persona Pauli’.

    -Why would the only possible amanuensis (2 Tim 4) be also the one whose style is found? (Wilson lists the Lukan style in extreme detail, as very well do Moule and others.)

    -Why would there be lots of otherwise trivial details (Reicke) unless the author was reproducing an historical situation? But then he would have had to have known or experienced that historical situation in some detail. And to be interested in it (see Acts 20).

    -Is it not too much of a coincidence that the only 2 extra personnel added to the Colossians crew (and addressee Titus) are 2 best friends or closest associates Crescens and someone of the name of Carpus cf. Polycarp (what proportion of names have this root?) but from a later turn-of-century date?

    Quinn suggests the Pastorals are Luke part 3. As an old man by this stage, Luke may only have had the puff for 3 more impressionistic letters to conclude the account of his Pauline years, rather than a full blown multi dimensional researched history. He shows signs of compositional fatigue already in Luke (Goodacre).

    Luke had already become a dabhand at writing in persona Pauli in the process of writing Acts.

    We can compare Luke’s floruit period with the floruit periods 50-100 of Josephus and of Clement. Like Josephus, Luke reminisces at the century’s end about the happy pre-war days of unrestricted travel.

    Would Luke be so nasty about widows? He seems usually to like them. I don’t think he is being nasty. By disallowing those who only pretend to be widows by his definition, he makes things better for the genuine ones. And in any case why imagine this is his prescription rather than Paul’s?

    van Nes’s marvellous study treats very well the limited question of how far language can be taken as an authorship-criterion. This is a matter of degree and of proportional likelihood. The Pastorals certainly exhibit the move towards a predominance of imperial titles and language for Christ which is also seen in 2 Peter and in the later first century. But there are beginnings to this in Php, Eph, etc.. We have to ask the question – what is the total impression given by the total vocabulary profile’s centre of gravity – this is more important than asking for each individual word ‘*Could* it have been mid first century?’.

    As for the final verse or two of 1 Timothy, its rare vocab can only speak of the time of Marcion (a time to which Tyson and Campbell assign the Pastorals as a whole without satisfactorily treating the evidence from Ignatius and Polycarp’s letters, e.g. 1 Tim 6,10,7 in EpPolycarp 4.1; 1 Tim 1.3-5 three times in Ignatius – nor treating the Lukan vocab question). But who could authoritatively add it to the text better than Polycarp himself, whose sentiments it certainly expresses? But then if Polycarp had the originals, that may help explain the teasing reference to Carpus and Crescens in 2 Tim 4 (a passage that is already teasing in both its Luke reference and its final plural which is in contradistinction to the other Pastorals). I forbear from commenting on the idea that Polycarp had a wider role in redacting the NT such that ‘much fruit’ in Jn 15 is his doing and signature.

  2. This defense of Pauline authorship of the PE involves an awful lot of special pleading, doesn’t it? Also, it is not acceptable to argue that contradictions between the PE and the undisputed letters show that the PE are genuine. When I read the section of this book dealing with authorship I cringed, as I did reading the treatments of Luke Timothy Johnson and Fee.

    I would like to see more discussion of the historical tensions between the PE and the genuine texts (the undisputed letters and Acts). Did Paul return to Ephesus or not? Was Timothy young in the 60’s or not? Were Prisca and Aquila in Rome or in Ephesus at that time? Also, it is clear to me that “Titus” in the undisputed letters is nothing more than Timothy’s first name. The author of the PE did not realize this.

    I agree with Bray that 1 Tim 2:11-15 should be taken at face value. The view of gender roles in the PE is in conflict with what Paul and Acts say (Rom 16:3, 7; Gal 3:28; Phil 4:2-3; Acts 18:26 etc.). Early copyists of the New Testament copied faithfully most of the time, but on many occasions they made misogynist corruptions to the text, and these lies have been mostly corrected by modern translations. Is it not time to acknowledge that the PE are just further examples of second century sexist lies?

    • I also agree strongly with Bray on 2.11-15 – who wouldn’t?

      This is a technical discussion which I can’t pursue at length here – I found Titus = Timothy to solve some problems but on balance to create more.

      By our standards one would guess Timothy to be only 35 at the time or purported time of the PEs. That does not necessarily solve everything.

      The return to Ephesus is not straightforward. Paul is clearly doing a circuit of the Mediterranean (anticlockwise, perhaps). Timothy docks at Ephesus, and Paul leaves him there. The greater difficulty is that Paul thinks he may return. Again, he may be returning to pick Timothy up. Some reconstructions think Paul was arrested there on his final return there. I was surprised by how different the reconstructions can be. The itinerary evidence, in fact, is not merely susceptible of conflict-less resolution, but of more than one different conflict-less resolution.

  3. On the question of authership of course I can’t speak from a scholarly point of view, but on the level of human common sense Pauls potential authorship of these letters seems quite plausible to me. Any of us who has ever inflicted a newsletter or even worse, a prayer letter on the world, (let alone a blog full of sensible theology and advice), will know that never in a million years would one write to an individual in quite the same way, especially not a friend or as in this case affectionately advising junior colleagues.

    • Yes, I totally agree. There are numerous ways in which the Pastorals if dated mid-sixties would be expected to be different from the other 10 Paulines (xpt Philemon):

      (1) You don’t write to friend in the style in which you write to a church
      (2) You don’t speak of the same topics
      (3) You are now older
      (4) You have now stepped back from apostolic travelling ministry…
      (5) …perhaps with concomitant sickness or exhaustion
      (6) Your thought will have developed since you last wrote, and if these letters postdate all the others it is obvious that new things will appear in them that do not appear in the others
      (7) Your letter will not be read publicly, so no need to be formal
      (8) No need to be formally structured – it’s ok to ramble and for thoughts to come as they occur to you
      (9) You have no thought that this letter will be read in posterity – it is just your present jottings
      (10) Your mind may have slowed. Thus the faithful sayings may represent things that Paul feels are especially important not to forget – especially in a context of passing on the deposit
      (11) Your mind may have become less capable of sustained or continuous thought. The train of thought may be more jerky (faithful sayings again)
      (12) You may be more inclined to speak of things that happened a long time ago (Iconium, Antioch, Lystra)
      (13) You will certainly speak more personally
      (14) Different genre altogether.

      And so on. My present view that Luke wrote the letters later is based on quite other considerations from any of these.

      • If you mean Luke wrote the letters after Paul died, and that therefore Paul had literally nothing to do with these letters, then I reject that.

        It seems to me the early church was careful not to accept letters or writings claiming to be written by an apostle, and therefore having apostolic authority, when they werent and didnt. There’s a big difference between Luke summarising some of Paul’s public speeches and writing in Paul’s name and claiming they were written by Paul.

        • ‘Paul had literally nothing to do with these letters’ is quite distant from my (non-original) proposal. Historians reconstruct. Historians who were present at the scene reconstruct all the better. We see Paul’s itinerary mapped out, for example.

          • That might apply to Acts, written by Luke, but not to personal letters to friends/church leaders claimed to be written by Paul. The two are quite different.

          • Those are far from being the only scenarii, don’t you think?

            (1) Acts does not claim to be written by Luke. I think it is, but it does not claim to be.

            (2) If Anthony Payne painstakingly reconstructs Elgar’s Third Symphony, far from doing something bad he is doing something very good indeed.

            (3) He is also doing something very much in the historical antiquarian spirit – but also an act of pietas, devotion and (in our present case) friendship.

        • Public documents will be preserved, private ones may not be.

          Once the 10 letters of Paul were published as a set (something to which 2 Ptr, 1 Clem, Acts, Pastorals etc may bear witness), there may have been a scurrying to check whether Paul had written other letters. Letters may for example have been treasured at the times but have failed to survive. Calling for reconstruction no more and no less than the Speech at the Areopagus.

  4. Im still confused about the whole issue of men and women in church leadership positions, at least as far as how relevant Paul’s words are today. On the one hand Paul seems to view men and women as equal, but on the other within that equality there are specific roles within a church which he deems not appropriate for a woman (or wife?). As Bray implies above, it is not good enough to dismiss Paul’s words as ‘local’ or temporal, as he argues from creation as to the appropriateness. Just as Jesus argued from creation about the permanency of marriage.

    Is it possible that Paul’s argument is simply wrong? Are we to believe he was right in everything he said, as if none of it reflected more his own cultural background than God’s view of the matter? Could this be another example of ‘scripture’ teaching something because of the hard-heartedness of the people, similar to Moses’ teaching on divorce also contained in scripture which Jesus then claimed was not actually God’s preferred will?

    I wonder…


    • I’d like to know if they really are Paul’s words. This series of studies is the most detailed I’ve come across that says it’s unlikely.

      Given the context of the translation of the KJV I’d be very surprised if it is a good rendition.

      * James I/IV was a man following on from a very long and successful reign by a woman.
      * His own claim to the throne was barely stronger than a female English relative.
      * Although many of the assassination threats on Elizabeth I were unfounded, sufficient were clearly verified to mean that a British sovereign’s life was always at serious risk from Catholics whether sponsored by a Spain still drunk on it’s own power from New World conquests and ridiculous riches (just to mention like Empire Britain was at another period, glass houses and all that), a still influencial but highly insecure Papacy in the Roman Universal Church threatened by the spread of protestantism, so also wanting to curry favour with the said Spain and Southern Europe or their own homegrown disgruntle about how RCs had been treated.
      * James then had a very tangible brush with death in the form of The Gunpowder Plot and instead of turning more against Rome like Elizabeth did, started to turn towards it, and one of the ways to please the pope was to be against female leadership or even freedoms in any form.
      * There seems to be pretty good historical evidence, not just hearsay, that James had a strong personal preference for men, interpret that as you will.

      All in all, not good circumstances for a fair hearing for the “women” verses in the Bible.

      Also I find this series of blog posts very salient about the viable translation of the 1 Timothy 2 passage.

      • I don’t think James VI/I is relevant to the case, since the one random translation that is associated with him plays no part in the interpretation of the passage, which is based on the Greek from 15 centuries earlier.

        • If only it were just “one random translation” instead of being the only Authorised Version in English for such a long time and still highly influencial.

          • Influential on readers but not on interpreters of the Greek, who are the only people who produce translations.

  5. On one interesting point I do seem to differ from Bray: as with Prior and Murphy-O’Connor 20 years back, an idea being floated is that different style means that the usual use of amanuensis has been dispensed with and we are able to hear the genuine Paul. But that would be in danger of meaning that Tertius (not Paul) is responsible for the high thought and style of Romans. Also Romans was written shackle-free, something which would not have been possible for 2 Timothy, which is more Pauline than the other 2 and is Prior’s and Murphy-O’Connor’s best case.

    The truth is that subject-matter alone will make a letter statistically more or less Pauline. Because the other Paul letters do not speak of bishops etc, those particular passages stand out for no better reason than subject-matter. G K Barr’s scalometric analysis sees these passages (in Titus and 1 Tim) as anomalous, but it could be suspicious or even tautologous that the very passages that are ‘anomalous’ in style and vocab are anomalous in subject matter.

    • Hi Christopher, I’m late to this. Do you not accept the reference to ‘bishops’ in Philippians 1.1 as genuinely Pauline?

  6. Am I alone in finding some of Bray’s comments at least questionable – and some actually disturbing?

    ‘The text must be read as it stands’. Actually we don’t and it is very important that it isn’t – though applying the text ‘as it stands’ is something we are selective about in practice. Any and every text first needs carefully understanding in its original context before it can be faithfully and meaningfully interpreted and applied to our own. Why was it written? What is the background? What issues was it seeking to address? In the light of that – how does this apply to us today? Nor do we read scripture ‘neat’ as if twenty centuries and more of history and faith have made no contribution to our understanding and obedience today. Without that faithful process we can, and do, make some appalling assumptions as to the original intentions of the text, for then and now. That process inclines me to follow Kenneth Bailey and other’s understanding of the teaching about men and women in 1Tim 2.

    ‘The woman was the instrument Satan used to deceive the man’. Quite apart from the fact that Satan appears nowhere in the Genesis narrative, is Bray really not aware of how this kind of statement, unqualified, has contributed to appalling prejudice and misogyny in the church and society down the centuries? But what he goes on to claim finds no direct support in the texts either.
    ‘The male [sic] is given certain leadership responsibilities [actually these are shared – Gen 1.26], but he is weak in some ways, particularly in his susceptibility to the female, and he must be protected against this. The Bible is full of examples of great men brought down by the seduction of women – Samson, Solomon, Ahab and so on.’
    Solomon was weak and needed protecting against women?! Really? What hope have we lesser men against these instruments of Satan, these temptresses who distract us and blight our path to Godliness?
    And the treatment of women by men in that male-led world of the Bible? Nothing to say there? Not part of the Fall? Really? This is staggeringly one-sided, wildly generalised and historically, actually dangerous in its outworking. Rather, John Bell observes, ‘‘When it comes to chauvinism, to the procuring of women for sexual purposes, to unbridled male power and to biased reported of events in favour of men, the Bible is a good a source as any.’
    And we are reading this in a church and society that is at last requiring men to take responsibility for their own behaviour and face up to the shameful, redeemed legacy of abusive leadership, coercive use of power, manipulation and collusion, of predatory sexual behaviour and abuse of women and children over generations.

    • Susceptibility to the female is very distant from needing protection against women.

      What very many if not all men of a certain broad age-span need is protection against falling prey not to women themselves but to their own temptation to sin re said women.

      Bray is speaking only of exegesis. Social effects are not relevant to exegesis.

      • “Social effects are not relevant to exegesis.” I think they are, because we always have to ask “what did the writer believe then that made that writer express themself in that way then?’ Social effects will have influenced that writer so need to born in mind for any exegesis.

        • Yes, but I didn’t mean that by ‘social effects’. I meant what David said about male power, legacy, abuse of women and children. Anything that happened after 100AD is not relevant to exegesis in any way. It is relevant to theology, to social policy, and to numerous other things.

    • David: you are not alone in finding some of Bray’s comments questionable and some actually disturbing, so thank you for raising the questions and pointing out some of the disturbances.

      ‘The text must be read as it stands’ seems to me to raise some very serious questions. As it stands might mean ‘what the writer thought when it was written’ which of course might have changed by the time it was published. It might mean ‘what the Church has understood it to mean because of where the Church has stood on these questions’.

      But I think it always has to make us ask: what did the writer believe then that made that writer express themself in that way then?’

      I also like the quote from John Bell and thank you for reminding us of it.

      • That’s exactly right. What did the writer believe then that made them say that?

        Whatever they believed, it was not anything remotely compatible with most of 20th-21st century feminism.

        • Compatibility isn’t really the issue though is it. The point is that Paul’s writings – anyone’s writings – are limited by their world view. What Paul believed and understood was not the whole story. Paul’s theology and his anthropology are, partly at least, the result of his time and culture.

          • Correct. It becomes an issue when people dishonestly try to import their own culture and norms into an historical text whose proper interpretation requires specific historical and cultural understanding.

  7. Greetings Christopher. (this went missing first time so I hope it doesn’t post twice).

    Do you agree with Bray’s claim that in the original goodness of creation the human male was created ‘weak in some ways’, particularly ‘in his susceptibility to the female’ and that ‘he must be protected against this’? Bray is clearly not saying this is the outcome of the Fall. Rather the Fall ‘demonstrates’ a pre-existent male condition.
    Given this core male vulnerability and weakness how are churches today to protect men from women?

    • You restate the problem as ‘women’ when the entire point of what I said was that the problem is men’s immediate susceptibility to female charms without sufficient thought for the consquences or how this fits into a long-term view of things.

      This inaccurate reading of what I said is in tune with the Zeitgeist, which probably explains it.

      If Dr Bray is saying that he knows males were created weak in some ways, how does he know that? Relatedly, how does he know the Fall demonstrates a preexistent male condition?

      There is logic in what he says – any Fall, especially any swift Fall, could well be as a result of inherent weaknesses. But this is not something that one can know.

      • Christopher. ‘This inaccurate reading of what I said’. I have made no response here to anything you said. I was asking you whether you agreed with Bray. He is the one who present the problem as ‘women’ – something I find utterly offensive and actually dangerous.
        I agree with your reply. Bray is making a very strange claim that has no basis in the text. We do not usually speak of Adam being created with significant character flaws.

  8. Well in contrast to most comments here, I’m glad to read a restatement of the traditional Conservative view (but I haven’t read his book). Quite how folks manage to view scripture as a divine word to us along with ripping it apart, I struggle to understand. Our own post-Pentecost ‘cloud of witnesses’ found a faith which bore fruit through the whole Canon of scripture, so I’m very inclined to give that and them due weight of respect. The fact that scripture does not have all its ends neatly intellectually tied up means the narrow gate has to be negotiated by faith in the first instance; and that of itself is likely to prove to be a test of genuineness not unlike that of Gideon’s 300.


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