Did Paul Practice What He Preached? -- By: Alvera Mickelsen

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 12:3 (Summer 1998)
Article: Did Paul Practice What He Preached?
Author: Alvera Mickelsen


Did Paul Practice What He Preached?

Alvera Mickelsen

Former CBE Board Chair, Alvera Mickelsen, was a founding member of CBE and co-author with her husband Berkeley of Family Bible Encyclopedia and Understanding Scripture.

Many people who know very little about the Bible still have heard that Paul’s teaching is against women: Women should be subservient to men and should not be in leadership positions over men.

And most Christians seem to know at least three verses from Paul: “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12); “Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22) and “Women should be silent in the churches” (1 Cor 14:34).

If we believe the Bible is God’s Word (which I do), then we should keep the commands that are in the Bible, shouldn’t we? Of course we should—providing we understand what those commands are really trying to say! And here the problem becomes a good deal more complicated.

One of the most serious problems for Christians (and we are all guilty of this) is selective literalism. We choose which passages we want to apply literally, and we ignore all the ones we don’t like. Wouldn’t it be better if we just applied all passages literally? But that is impossible.

Probably every person reading this article is right now disobeying at least one biblical command: “You shall not put on a garment made of two kinds of materials” (Lev 19:19). If you are wearing a cotton polyester blend or any other kind of blend, you are in violation of a commandment!

Well, you may be thinking, that’s an obscure Old Testament command. So let’s look at the New Testament instead. Five times, Paul and Peter tell Christians to “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” but I’ve never seen that practiced in the churches I attend. I could give you quite a list of other New Testament commands that we do not follow.

Why don’t we? You know the answer. Those commands arise from cultural customs, and different cultures have different customs. In fact, almost everything in the Bible is culturally conditioned—just as almost everything we do is culturally conditioned.

The clothes we wear, hair styles, the kind of houses we live in, the books we read: Everything in our lives is deeply affected by the culture in which we live. The same was of course true in Bible times.

Then what good does it do us to study the Bible? The main purpose, of course, is that we meet God there. We see what God is like prim...

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