Theological Process – Headcovering

In this note I outline the theological process, the dangers inherent in “short-circuiting” that process, and then give one application from an epistle of Paul’s. I do this in a desire to show that gaining insight from God’s word is not impossible to do, even when it seems that the passage you are dealing with is vague. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed and that God’s word cannot return void, and it is with that knowledge that we proceed.

There are three primary steps in an orthodox method for getting meaning from Scripture. I say orthodox because there are obviously infinite numbers of ways that one could get knowledge from Scripture. I am outlining a way that is reasonable, has some Scriptural base, and that will yield consistent results time after time.

Exegetical Statement – Meaning to the Ancient Audience
The first step is to extract the meaning of the verse to the audience to whom it was written. Some books of the Bible record events (historical/descriptive), some tell us how to act and live (prescriptive), some record error after error (Ecclesiastes), and many books were written to specific audiences (many epistles). With these varied intents, we must be careful to clearly understand to direction and intent of the writing. This is not an impossible task – especially with modern Bibles – and the effort is well worth it. In this step we would study the history and setting of the writer and the intended audience. We would interpret the grammar and context, and we might perform some literary translation as well. All of these efforts in this phase lead to an exegetical statement. That is, a statement borne out of the text and its real meaning, not a meaning I’ve read into it.

Theological Statement – Timeless Truth
When we have the meaning to the ancient audience, we then extract from this meaning the timeless principle that is being taught. Scripture does not “only” record history, but it contains truths for us that don’t decay over time. Before we study how our lives should be changed daily by a passage, we must understand the timeless truth that the writer was inspired to record. One of the most important methods for doing this is to compare this passage with other Scriptural passages. This is especially useful when dealing with a passage that seems to say something outside the norm. Find passages that speak on that same topic in a plainer way. Once we have extracted the timeless principle, we have what we refer to as a theological statement. We are now ready to discern how this should alter our daily lives.

Homiletical Statement – Application
We’ve all heard the assertion that the Bible “was for them back then” and that it does not apply to us today. As with all dangerous error, there is some truth in that statement. I cannot take a promise that was directed at Israel and claim that for the modern church, but the principles recorded in the Bible are intended for us and certainly should change our behavior and our beliefs. This step takes the theological statement from the previous session and contextualizes it for our world today. It is important to note that this does not mean to “water it down”. It means that we apply the principle to our world today in a relevant way, in a way that honors God by honoring the intent of the writer to the original audience.

Fallacy of Ancient Audience Alone
Some people translate only the message to the original audience and they are easy to spot because they have no life change, a pile of head knowledge, and are likely very legalistic.

Fallacy of Theological Statement Alone
Some take only the timeless truths, but skip the step that draws these truths from scripture and carefully unwraps them in context to the original audience. This gives their theology no base in fact and further means that they do not experience life change. These are the classic folk theologians. They know what the know, but they don’t know why and the knowledge has no power to change them for the better.

Fallacy of Application Alone
Here I am trying to change my life but on principles that are not timeless truths and do not come from a Biblical base. This is the result of a post-modern world that tells us that there either is no truth, or that truth cannot be known. Here we have life change with no system of morality, to be blown by the winds each time a new crystal or Kabbalah comes around.

Some people do careful exegesis on the original audience and then skip the timeless truth step on the way to application. These people truly are living thousands of years in the past, blindly applying messages intended for another audience into their own lives today. This is called irrelevant theology. Sometimes partly orthodox, other times more than is needed, and always less than truth.

Other folks will take the timeless truths without the step of exegesis and jump into application. This results in folk theology and/or tradition. We don’t know why we do these things, we just always have and they seem to “work” (sound like any church you’ve been to?)

So, without all the references and such (because I haven’t figured a good way to show those), let’s jump into a passage that’s given some of my friends pause over the past few months and let’s see if this stuff really works!

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 has been interpreted many ways over the years and most of us will recognize this as the “headcovering passage”. Let’s first understand the setting. Paul writes this epistle in A.D. 55, near the end of his 3-year stint in Ephesus and he writes to the church in Corinth, a city with hundreds of thousands of people, a crossroads of commerce, and the city had 12 temples to Aphrodite. The number one issue this city had was loose morals. There was no self-control, in fact, life was made to be enjoyed by the upper classes and immorality was the main course of “fun” to be had. With 250,000 citizens and 400,000 slaves, there was enough “fun” for most citizens to live for themselves (sound like anywhere you know?). Paul writes the letter to correct some specific “faction action” that is splitting the church, and he dedicates most of the rest of the letter to morality issues (heart issues that aren’t changing lives). It is in this morality section that we find ourselves in Chapter 11.

Paul begins the passage by outlining the relationship of Christ’s saving power to us as humans. He is saying less about our structure of misogyny than he is about Christ’s view of how He has laid His Spirit and presence on us. There is an “order” to this outpouring, God to Christ, Christ to man, man to woman (this is also a reason that men are said to be responsible for the spiritual state of their family). Paul then tells us something we recognize today, that is dishonors God for a man to prophesy with his head covered. What do we do today before prayer? We ask all men to remove their hats. Nice to know this is a very ancient tradition eh?

Paul now discusses the traditional and historical reasons for covering and not covering and these verses spin feminists and pastors alike into a frenzy that is – in my view – just wholly unnecessary. Paul is dealing with a church in which there are declining morals and Christian freedom is being taken too far. Paul is saying that we should recognize our place in the created order and our place relative to God. Men should love their God and their wives, and women should love God and respect their husbands. We are to do all things to the glory of God, and we are not to exert our “freedom” just because we “want to” or think we “can”. We are to submit to Christ.

So, we have a historical setting and a basic theological statement. How do we apply the ideas of morality, respect for God, respect for husband, and submission to Christ in today’s church? It is clear that hairstyle and headcovering for a woman have little to no bearing on her respect for God or man in today’s average North American church (within certain cultural bounds). An analog today might be to wear clothes that are decent and convey clear ideas about good morality, and to be quiet with head bowed or hands raised during prayer. Men and women alike are to be participative without outburst or interjection during the sermon and we all honor Christ through this worship and hearing of the word as well as Christian fellowship before and after the service.

Finally, this example wasn’t the best, and I gave no references. Perhaps I will find out how to link to a Word document so that you can see this done in a proper outline with references one day. I just wanted to give a perspective on Bible translation and application to today in an effort to clear up misunderstandings and to motivate you to pull from God’s word the truths that you need to change your life today. Open His word and read it anew!

This entry was posted on Monday, October 8th, 2007 at 6:30 and is filed under Hermeneutics, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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