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• Romans 9–11 (Spring 2012)
• 舊約神學 （2012春季)
Since my seminary days, I have studiously avoided thinking too hard or taking a stance on the women in ministry issue. It’s probably because I deeply admired my seminary professors, who happen to differ on this issue (e.g., Bruce Waltke, J. I. Packer, Stan Grenz, and Gordon Fee), and I didn’t want to disagree with any of them (something to do with being Asian and the youngest child).
Now that I am a campus theologian for InterVarsity, I can no longer maintain my childish refusal to get off the fence. So I’ve been reading and talking to people who are passionate about the issue (Thank you, Melodie and Ashley). To help me think through this, I’m starting a blog series on my changing perspectives; it does not follow any grand organization, but reflects my emerging convictions:
My recent readings deal with the nature of the Trinity and its relevance to this issue. Complementarians assert that God created man and woman with equal essence yet with role distinction in authority. They argue that this combination of equality and distinction is possible because we find it in the Trinity.9. Trinitarian Analogy – Complementarians understand the Trinity to present an analogy to the male/female relationship, as God designed it. God is one in essence and three in persons. The three persons of the God-head are absolutely equal in essence (in fact, they each share fully, simultaneously and without division the one divine essence), but they are distinct in function. Specifically, their distinction of function is marked by an intrinsic relation of authority within the God-head, by which the Son is subject to the Father, and the Spirit to the Son. 1 Cor. 11:3 states part of this: “God is the head of Christ.” The clearest biblical example of Christ’s subjection to the Father is in 1 Cor. 15:28 where the exalted and victorious Son “will also be subject to the One who subjected all things to Him.” Given this understanding of the Trinity, it makes sense for Paul to say what He does in 1 Cor. 11:3. He speaks here of three authority lines that exist: Christ is the authority (head) over every man, man is the authority (head) over a woman, and God (the Father) is authority (head) over Christ. Just as the persons of God are equal in essence and yet they relate within a structure of lines of authority, so too men and women are equal in essence while relating within a similar structure of lines of authority. (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)
I have always found this argument unpersuasive, but only recently have I realized why. In analogical reasoning we use simple, clear things (those we have intuitions about) to explains complex, opaque things. Thus, we use common concepts like wave or particle to explain the nature of light. Our intuitions and familiarity with the simple concepts help us gain insight into what is complex.
This is why the Trinity argument is fatally flawed. The argument uses Trinity as an analogy to explain male and female relationship; that is, it uses an opaque, mysterious concept (one about which none of us have any direct knowledge or access or intuition) to explain something we actually know quite a bit about. This is why the argument is so unpersuasive for me: I do not have any intuitions about how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other; I do not understand how the Trinity works; and I rely simply on what the creeds tell me.
This does not mean that it is impossible to have equal essence with role distinction in authority. It just means that complementarians need to come up with a better analogy, one that we can actually understand.
A couple of days ago, an old friend who’s a New Testament professor pointed me to Matthew 5:19.Matt. 5:19 Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (RSV).
He argues for reading “these commandments” not as referring to the commandments in the Torah mentioned in 5:17 and 5:18, but referring to the commandments that Jesus teaches in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount; he believes this makes better sense of 5:20—that is, these upcoming new commands reveal a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.
I find his argument compelling, and I’m trying to work out its implications: Rhetorically, this verse serves as preemptive warning against anyone who is tempted to relax the upcoming commands, and this warning is very necessary because we are very tempted to do precisely what we are warned against. The number one homiletic challenge for this passage is to find some way to relax (explain away) these extreme injunctions for eye-gouging and hand-chopping (5:29–30), the implication that remarried people are living in sin (5:32), unlimited generosity (5:42), etc.
So how do we teach the Sermon on the Mount without “relaxing one of the least of these commandments”?
First, I take comfort in that those who violate Jesus’ warning in 5:19 are still “in the kingdom of heaven.” That is to say, this is not an issue that affects our membership in the covenant community. This is a good thing.
Second, Jesus’ rhetoric is maximal, extreme, unnuanced, provocative; this is intentional. The text challenges every Christ-follower at every point of our journey with God, forcing us to struggle with who we are and how we should live in concert with the guidance and illumination of the Holy Spirit. We should beware of any exposition that removes this rhetorical edge.
Third, we are called to live and teach the Sermon on the Mount as both ideal and reality. The “traditional (in some Protestant circles)” way of discounting all these commands as Jesus’ way of showing us that we cannot earn our way to heaven is not an exegetically live option. On the contrary, the Kingdom of God aims to bring about a transformed humanity that becomes fit to rule creation in Christ. If so, we have to embrace a superior brand of ethics (however short of it we may fall at times). In these passages, Jesus exposits the ethics of the Kingdom and expects that they should mark the people of God. Given the common understanding of inaugurated eschatology, there is no reason why we should not teach them as at least partially realized in our lives here and now and as an ideal that we should pursue.
Finally, we must supplement this passage. For it is understood by Jesus’ audience (and those familiar with the Old Testament) that the Kingdom comes with the circumcision of the heart and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That is, God is making a people fit for his kingdom; he is the agent of our transformation. Our faith is not merely in God’s ability to establish his rule on earth, but his ability to establish his rule in our lives. Thus, our transformation is our hope of glory, and we yearn for it in faith.
The video for the lecture on Romans 9:30–10:13 is now online. All the videos for the Romans 9–11 course can be found on the course page through the Pauline Epistle Series link above.