I had an interesting conversation with someone who was arguing for women as senior pastors of churches. What was interesting about the conversation is that at no time in the discussion did she argue from scripture to defend her views. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that many discussions I’ve had with people about so called “controversial” issues are usually not argued from scripture. I’d say that most positions that people consider “controversial” are positions taken against scripture and not for scripture. In fact, the woman I chatted with resorted to saying that if I didn’t agree with her then my god was “too small.” That’s not a biblical argument, that’s the argument of a spiritual child, or someone who imposes a liberal world view on the Bible, rather than deriving their world view from the Bible.
Now, I’m not here to make a defense of women in or out of the pastorate. That’s beyond what I want to do here. But I would like to help us argue our beliefs primarily from scripture and not primarily from culture. Culture has a place in biblical defense. But scripture is supreme.
Why Argument is Important
When I talk about argument, I don’t mean a fight or seeking someone’s downfall. Argument, our context refers to persuading people about the Bible’s truth and relevancy. So, why do we argue? For four reasons.
1.) Defending the scripture.
2.) Exposing error.
3.) Enabling repentance.
4.) Honoring God.
In one sense scripture needs no defense. It is the final authority about all things of which it speaks. However, most people do not view the Bible this way. Therefore, we defend the Bible’s reliability by citing its historicity and dependability. We do not need to convince people that the Bible is inspired. We only need to argue for its reliability historically, and in practical matters of life. Someone is convinced by the Holy Spirit, not necessarily by our arguments.
The scripture tells us to expose error, but not in the sense of putting people down. Rather, in the sense of revealing what is true about a situation instead of letting someone continue to be deceived. Note what the Scripture says about this topic.
Ephesians 5:11, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
I Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The purpose of defending scripture and exposing error is so that a person may come to a different view about the issue at hand, and then repent of the deception. Once someone learns the truth about their situation, repentance is a requirement. We need to bring all things back to God so that we can have our views determined by his word. This leads us to my next point.
Ultimately, everything goes back to God. By trusting his word, by exposing our error, by being reapproved so that we can change our perspective, all of these things point us back to our relationship with God so that we can serve him and love him rightly. This is the ultimate objective of argument.
I had another exchange with someone who advocated using Jesus to correct Paul. He seemed ignorant to the fact that Jesus and Paul taught the same things. Beyond that, it was apparent that he had a low view of scripture. If one has a low view of scripture, then one can change meaning to keep it in line with their own perspectives. This is a mistake. Scripture should change our perspective, not the other way around.
Someone may ask, “How can I tell if an interpretation is matter of culture?”
First, let me answer this by saying that all Scripture is a matter of culture. The scripture was not written in a vacuum. It was written to a group of people at a specific time in history that had specific cultural mindsets, ideas, and practices. Many of these were different than what we have now. Therefore, we have to take their culture into account in order to divine which principles from scripture in their culture apply to our culture. Of course, the answer is that all of them apply to us. It’s one thing to study culture along with scripture, but it’s another thing to allow that culture to change the interpretation or meaning of a passage. Let me give you an example. Consider this passage:
“For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head” (I Corinthians 11:6).
People often get hung up on this passage because the scripture says that a woman should cover her head. In our modern day, we think of this as something like the head coverings in Islam. Most Westerners see that as a sign of oppression. So when the Bible seems to advocate the same thing at the surface level reading, we think that this is what God was prescribing in the New Testament. But nothing could be further from the truth.
To the Corinthian culture to whom Paul was writing a woman’s hair was considered a sexual organ. Not figuratively, but literally. The longer a woman’s hair was the better chance she had of becoming pregnant. Therefore, if she left her hair uncovered, if it was long, it would be like if a person today were to walk around without any pants on. It was considered lewd and licentious. Therefore, Paul was using the cultural expression of the day to say to the Corinthians, be people of modesty.
Now, I hope you have noticed in my explanation that my addressing the cultural perception of the day impacted my examination of the scripture, but not its interpretation. In fact, this information about the Corinthian culture actually augments the proper understanding of the passage, which is about modesty. This represents a right view of using culture to better understand scripture.
What if a person isn’t a Christian? Can I argue from scripture? Yes. Scripture is our final authority. It is appropriate to use cultural examples. But in the end, everything must go back to scripture. We can use culture to help us understand scripture, but not to overturn its intended meaning. Culture can augment our understanding, but not overturn a scripture’s foundational meaning.
The Apostle Peter is famous for saying that our defense of the gospel must be made with “gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:25). But there is also something to be said about appropriate bluntness. Jesus did this in his argument with the Jewish leaders who, after questioning him, heard Jesus say to them, “You are quite wrong.”
Sometimes it is necessary to be blunt. Sometimes a direct statement of right and wrong handles the need of the moment. We actually see this throughout scripture, like the blessings and cursing of the law. Why can we be blunt about blessings but not about the ramifications of our sin?
Bottom line, whatever issue you find yourself addressing, always rely upon the scripture as your final authority. If you cannot defend yourself with scripture in its proper context, then a reexamination of your beliefs might be in order.
Someone you know may need to read this. Please share.