Jeremy Witteveen, the Head Chef over at Le Café Witteveen, offers a few choice words in his post “What the believing kids are writing” in response to my post “I Do Not Permit A Woman.” So, to be equitable, I have a few responses of my own.
Regarding 1 Timothy 2.12, Witteveen says “You know, one of those verses that renders the concept of belief a bit silly, reckless and short-sighted.” How on earth can a single statement in a nineteen hundred year old letter have such drastic epistemological consequences? That verse alone renders the entire “concept of belief” silly? Really? But perhaps Witteveen is referring solely to Christian belief, meaning something along the lines of “I Tim. 2.12 renders Christian belief untenable.” But he’s going to have to flesh out that argument a great deal for me to even consider it. The fact that Paul (or another early Christian) wrote a letter with some less-than-clear guidelines pertaining to women hardly impinges upon the entirety of Christian belief.
Witteveen then says “Wilkinson does the standard, the message is out of context to today’s world, and shouldn’t be looked at so seriously.” But I made precisely the opposite point! I said “any understanding that simply dismisses the passage as being a product of an ancient culture that now has no relevance to our modern life has also run roughshod over the text.” We can’t simply dismiss this passage as being “out of context.” Rather, we must seek to understand the context in which it was written before even considering applying it to our modern life. Furthermore, I provided a range of interpretive possibilities, including one that Witteveen ignored completely: “There is another possibility that we must consider: that Paul really was a misogynist.”
Witteveen goes on to say “Not surprisingly, he says that some things are mysterious in the bible. Imagine that.” He makes light of this point, but I think it’s an important one. Too many people think that they have all the answers, especially when it comes to the Bible. If more Christians bracketed their particular biblical interpretations with the appropriate caveats and nuances and humility, it would go a long way toward mending the divisions within the Church. And if more non-Christians took the Bible seriously as a profoundly significant collection of historical, literary and spiritual writings instead of simply dismissing it as an out-dated and irrelevant book of religious rules, it would go a long way towards resolving the seemingly insurmountable differences between Christians and non-Christians.
Next, he says, “Wilkinson even opens the door to doubt that Timothy was written by Paul at all. He quickly returns and says, But for the sake of the argument, and that Timothy is canonical, let’s explore it as if it were.” But I did more than open the door, I said that “the majority of modern scholars do reject Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy for a variety of reasons, many of them very good.” It’s relevant issue, but ancillary to my main discussion, which is the interpretive options surrounding a specific verse. I don’t think assuming Pauline authorship for the sake of the discussion has a significant impact on any of the points I made. I could just have easily written the entire post solely referencing “the author of 1 Timothy,” but such a convention, though technically more accurate, quickly becomes tiringly cumbersome.
But for Witteveen, the issue of authorship seems important: “That begs the question, if you doubt one biblical author, which biblical authors should you not question?” I’m not sure what question we’re begging. There are very good reasons to doubt Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy and there are very good reasons to believe the Paul did write Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon – virtually no scholar doubts the authorship of those epistles. So what?
Witteveen then takes issue with my point that that the Bible was written in a far different time and culture than we live in now and that we often lack cultural and historical details that would be helpful in understanding the text. But this point isn’t at all controversial — it’s simply a given for the study of any ancient literature or history. Is he disputing this fact?
He goes on to say “One must ask the question, Was any part of the bible directly intended for us?” But of course every portion of the Bible was written to a specific people for specific reasons. Again, this should be an uncontroversial point. Many parts of the Bible were written in general terms and intended to provide foundations for all Christians, but no Biblical author sat down with pen and scroll and thought, “let me jot down a few thoughts for 21st century evangelicals.” Is this what Witteveen thinks Christians believe?
Witteveen also takes issue with my statement “We don’t know many details about the difficulties the church there was facing.” He asks, “Don’t we? Don’t we know some details about the church’s evolution from nothing to something? The evolution of the trinity concept? The evolution of the godman?” But, as has clearly become his pattern, Witteveen isn’t really reading what I said, he’s jumping to unwarranted conclusions. I said “the church there” referring to the church in Ephesus, to whom the letter was written. All of the early churches faced specific problems that were brought about by their particular contexts. Ephesus was home to the Temple of Artemis, which likely posed unique challenges to the Christian community there. But we have little, if any, details about what those specific challenges were — most of those difficulties we can only speculate about given Paul’s (or the author of 1 Timothy’s!) advice to the church there.
Witteveen takes issue with my conclusion that “In the end, we must be content with more questions than answers.” He responds with “Let that sink in for a second. When have you met a Christian who was more content with questions over answers?” Apparently Witteveen hasn’t met very many Christians. But now he’s met me (at least virtually), so I can at least be the token Christian with more questions than answers. But this point wasn’t being made as a universal standard. Rather, it was an acknowledgement of the insurmountable difficulties of this particular passage. We simply lack the information to arrive at a definitive understanding of what the author of 1 Timothy 2.12 really meant. Any honest analysis of this passage readily acknowledges that fact.
He goes on to ask “And more importantly, why should a person be so content with questions over answers?” We should be content with questions because questions are important. Once you stop asking questions you stop learning, you stop moving forward. Once you think you have all (or most) of the answers, you become smug and self-secure and self-righteous and egotistical. We must always ask questions and always challenge our assumptions. Witteveen would do well to heed such advice.
Witteveen then jumps to a truly bizarre question: “Why should a person be content with scripture, that is “divinely inspired” that was never intended for culture two thousand years later.” I have no answer to what, for me, is a nonsensical statement/question. I never said we should be content with scripture — if anything, I think if we ever are content with scripture it’s a sign we aren’t really taking it seriously.
He asks “Aren’t believers the first to point out that the bible’s relevance is unending, unyielding, immutable?” But again, I’m not sure what that even means. That the Bible is still relevant is clearly true — millions of people read it and study it every day. That it’s “unending, unyielding, immutable?” As a Christian I think that’s an incoherent description of the Bible.
Witteveen asks “Does Paul get a pass on this solidarity toward verbatim commitment?” As I pointed out in my post, giving Paul a pass is precisely what we shouldn’t do — we should try to understand what he’s really saying. I said, “If, in exegeting the text, we determine that Paul was advocating something we know to be clearly immoral, we must be willing to face those consequences.”
Finally, Witteveen completely misses the point regarding my final statement. I said “We must be content with a less-than definitive conclusion about this passage, but that also shouldn’t prevent us from coming to any conclusion at all.” He responds “Confused? Wondering what to think? Don’t know the mystery but want to solve the puzzle? Jump to a conclusion! That’s the answer.” Asking questions, positing hypothesis, asking more question, wrestling with the problem, interacting with differing viewpoints — those are all crucial parts of gaining knowledge. I never suggested that one should simply “jump to a conclusion” in order to smugly “solve the puzzle.” The entire point of my post was that if you think you’ve “solved the puzzle” of 1 Tim. 2.12, you’d be wise to reconsider, especially if you think it’s an absolute command against women teaching intended to be normative at all times and in all places.
Sadly, Witteveen misconstrues or ignores virtually all of the main points in my post, and instead chooses to jump to unfounded conclusions, proffer unsubstantiated assertions and posit incoherent and irrelevant questions. But don’t take my word for it … go read the post yourself. You’ll see how badly confused Witteveen’s thoughts are …