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Women in the Church: Introduction

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This series of articles coincides with the launch of Biblesoft’s new Hannah Series—a collection of reference works and resources written primarily by women and for women wanting to go further into their walk with God (see below). So it seemed to be an appropriate time to introduce a study on the topic of Women in the Church, from the standpoint of the evidence and witness of Scripture. This, of course, is a complex and controversial subject, which requires careful and unbiased treatment. I intend to discuss the most relevant passages of Scripture—particularly those in the New Testament—in as honest and objective a manner as possible. However, this should be considered only a starting point. It is hoped that the articles of this study will be enhanced and supplemented by other voices and viewpoints—by women, fellow sisters in Christ, including scholars, authors, and those serving in ministry—who can lend their perspective (and experience) to the subject.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this subject, like many in the Church today, is the wide gulf which exists between ancient and modern worldviews—that is, between the ancient Near Eastern (and Greco-Roman) world and modern Western society. The Scriptures were written and took shape within the former, not the latter; and, with each generation, each passing decade, the modern cultural and religious perspective becomes further removed from the ancient thought-world which served as the matrix for the Scriptural message. Well-meaning Christians today, who attempt to bridge this divide, often fall prone to two different kinds of distortions:

  1. Interpreting Scripture to accommodate the modern view, or
  2. Making the modern view and practice conform with what is believed to be the ‘correct’ view of Scripture

Great harm (and error) can result from each of these tendencies, when approached carelessly or without proper concern for the true Christian spirit. When dealing with a particular passage of Scripture, a careful and faithful approach, in my view, requires the following (in order):

  1. Seek to understand the passage, as best as possible, in terms of its original literary and historical context
  2. Compare the passage with the Christian message as a whole—i.e. as preserved in the Gospel, the New Testament writings (including the Old Testament background), and (early) tradition
  3. Interpret and apply the passage in light of our modern context, as expressed in various forms or practical situations

In these articles, I will be focusing primarily on the first of these steps, though without neglecting the last two. However, ultimately I leave it to the reader to address the third step, according to his or her conscience and the insight of the wider Community.

My approach will be to begin with the passages in the New Testament which relate most directly to the subject—namely, the several key passages from the Pauline letters, which I will be discussing in detail in the upcoming articles. Next, I will supplement this study with a brief examination of the remainder of relevant references in the Pauline corpus, followed by: (a) a discussion of several relevant passages in the Gospels and other New Testament writings, (b) a brief survey of the Old Testament evidence, and (c) a concluding look at the witness of the early Church outside of the New Testament.

The main Pauline passages to be examined in some detail are: (1) 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, (2) 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35, (3) Galatians 3:28, (4) Romans 16:1-2, and (5) 1 Timothy 2:11-15. For many traditional-conservative commentators and Church leaders, the Pauline instruction in 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:33-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15, etc, provides the authoritative (and definitive) word on the subject. Whether or not one ultimately adopts or accepts this view, it is necessary to take the following interpretive factors and questions into account:

  • The force and extent of Paul’s authority with regard to the instruction in his letters—is it directed at the particular circumstances of his audience, or is it meant to be taken as an (absolute) instruction for all believers?
  • The weight and value of the particular passage in relation to the rest of the teaching and instruction in Paul’s letters.
  • Paul’s particular instruction in relation to the rest of the New Testament witness (especially the sayings and teaching of Jesus)
  • The critical question of the authorship of the Pastoral letters (and Ephesians), whether these are to be regarded as authentically Pauline or pseudonymous—does it make any difference with regard to the authority of the instruction in these letters?

The next article (Part 1) of this series will deal with the first Pauline passage indicated above—1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

October 31 – The Protestant Reformation

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October 31 is the traditional date commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, marking the day in 1517 when Martin Luther is thought to have posted his list of Ninety-Five Theses (on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg). These were to have formed the basis of a proposed academic disputation—that is, a public debate among scholars. Though the disputation never took place, a number of the underlying ideas and issues involved served to inspire many who were dissatisfied with the state of the established (Catholic) Church in Germany at the time. His theses deal primarily with the issue of the Pope’s authority to grant indulgences. According to established Church tradition, even after a Christian had confessed and repented of sin, he/she was still required to perform penance (an act of contrition or prayer, attending mass, charitable work, etc), as prescribed by the priest, before the guilt and penalty of the sin was completely absolved. Over time, high Church authorities—most notably the Pope—began to grant absolution on a wider scale for special occasions or circumstances, such as participation in the Crusades or religious pilgrimage. This indulgence (indulgentia, “concession, remission, pardon”) related only to temporal punishment—that is, to the punishment imposed by Church authorities in this life—though some theologians held that it could extend to souls in purgatory (after death) as well. While there had been questions and objections regarding this practice (and the theology underlying it) prior to Luther, it became an especially hot topic in his time due to the dubious methods and claims of Papal representatives attempting to raise funds (for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome) by offering a certificate of indulgence. A man named Johann Tetzel was the notorious “seller” of indulgences in Luther’s area, using methods gave the (popular) impression that one could “buy and sell salvation”. Luther’s theses dealt with the theological and ecclesiastical doctrine underlying the Papal practice of granting indulgences, but they were pointed enough that one could easily read between the lines and see in them a (potential) attack against the entire penitential system, so essential to function of the established Catholic Church of the time. The following year (1518), a disputation took place at Heidelberg, in which Luther did participate, at the request of Johann Staupitz, the head of his (Augustinian) religious order in Germany. Luther drew up a somewhat simpler list of 28 theses which cover a wider (and more general) range of ideas, and which better reflect the earliest stages of Protestant thought.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I will be starting a series of notes and articles entitled “The Reformation in Scripture”, in which the Scriptural background and support (or lack thereof) for certain key Protestant doctrines and tendencies is examined. This series will begin next week and continue through the month of November, up until the beginning of Advent. It is to be hoped that these notes and articles will be both informative and inspiring for Protestants and non-Protestants alike, as well as for any Christian who seeks to gain a better sense of the immense influence of the Reformation on the Church in the West (and on Western Society) and how it ties back to the writings of the New Testament.

Painting depicting Luther at the Imperial Day (Diet) of Assembly, at Worms in 1521

For those who seek to learn more about the Reformation, and to read (in translation) many of the writings of its leading figures (Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger, John Knox, Menno Simons, Caspar Schwenckfeld, et al), Biblesoft has available a rich and extensive Reformation Classics Collection.

Advent and Christmas Season

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Throughout December, I will be continuing (and concluding) the extensive series of articles on “The Law and the New Testament”. Having just completed the portion on “Paul’s View of the Law”, the next articles will examine the Old Testament Law in the remaining New Testament writings (James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter & Jude, Hebrews, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation). Keeping with this theme, and as a way of transitioning into the Advent and Christmas season, I will be presenting a series of daily notes on Galatians 4:4, looking at each word and phrase in considerable detail.

Daily notes will likewise be offered, hopefully with little or no interruption, all the way through Epiphany (Jan 6) and the end of the Christmas Season. I trust and pray that these notes and articles will be both informative and inspiring, encouraging the reader to delve deeper into the text of Scripture.

“Note of the Day” returns

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After a hiatus, I am starting up the Note of the Day feature again. I will be going back to my original idea of relatively short notes (allowing for a note every day or so), dealing with some noteworthy critical or interpretative aspect of a Scripture passage, occasionally touching upon matters of theology, church history, and the history of doctrine. As often as seems useful, I will follow the significant days and dates of the traditional Church Year.

For the Advent season, through the days of Christmas, I will be looking primarily at Old Testament, New Testament, and extra-/non-canonical passages related to the Birth of Jesus. Due to the complexity of some of these passages, I will at times break up the discussion over several consecutive notes.

I trust that these ‘daily’ posts will prove interesting and enlightening, and may stimulate readers toward further study.

Introduction to the Note of the Day

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NoteOfDay_template

Each day I will be posting a critical-exegetical Note—usually text-critical—on a select passage. Posts will generally follow the Church Year, with supplemental Notes filling in between the special days on the Calendar. Beyond being merely academic in nature, these Notes will touch on interesting or related theological and spiritual matters for contemplation, and to encourage deeper study. They will also introduce some less familiar areas of Church History, Doctrine, and Christian Spirituality which relate to the passage.

To begin with, there will be posts several times a week, and more frequently thereafter. We trust and pray that you will find these Notes stimulating and provocative. You will almost certainly discover or encounter something new each day.

New Blog and Updates

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Welcome to the Biblesoft Blog

We here at Biblesoft have felt and seen an increasing need for stronger communication. This includes not only company updates, but also study-focused content that isn’t just another marketing channel. We’re proud to present the answer to both of these problems in the Biblesoft Blog.

More than just announcements and updates, we want to provide interesting Bible study focused articles to help get you into the Word. We are a Bible software company after all. With the help of some in-house contributors, we have already posted an initial article from one of our resident content editors, reviewing some textual criticism issues related to our Easter season.

In addition to scholarly articles, we also look forward to providing uplifting devotional articles in the near future. If you are interested in contributing to the Biblesoft Blog let us know! Send a message to cs@biblesoft.com and provide link(s) to your current blog for review.

Other Updates

VerseFinder

In addition to our new blog, we have a new FREE study tool! We have developed this tool to help you bring your study with you across the web. As you travel across the web, the VerseFinder will scan pages for Bible verses and automatically tag them for you!

Once tagged, all you have to do is mouse-over the link, and the VerseFinder will bring up a hover with that verse for you. In addition, you can select the “Explain” tab to see commentary information about that verse, effectively letting you do a mini-study wherever you are. If you want even more information, you can click the “More” tab and it will launch the Biblesoft App.
verseFinderScreenShot

We recommend installing the VerseFinder extension in your Chrome browser for the best experience. Learn more at http://www.biblesoftonline.com/versefinder

App

After a few misfires we were finally able to release a cloud based app in 2014. It wasn’t until just recently that we were able to fully import all of our reference works and make all of our customer’s purchase history available to them. At this point, all Biblesoft customers should be to login to the Biblesoft App using their Biblesoft.com login and access previously purchased material at http://app.biblesoftonline.com for FREE.

We know that the app has a ways to go to meet both your and our expectations, but we believe that this first version will pave the way for many new tools and features in the coming years. It has already allowed us to create the VerseFinder, and we have many more opportunities in front of us. If you’ve tried the app and didn’t like it, then we would encourage you to check back every couple months as our app team releases updates.

PCSB

Our PCSB development team is hard at work on version 6, and yes we are ensuring compatibility with Windows 10. We cannot share new feature details or release dates at this time, but we are happy to have a dedicated team working full-time on this next version. After a couple false-starts on related projects and pulling on this team to get the App rolling, this team is back on track (and has been for awhile). We couldn’t be more excited about their current progress on our flagship product.

Look for more updates in the coming months!