Asking The Wrong Questions -- By: Jeff David Miller

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 24:3 (Summer 2010)
Article: Asking The Wrong Questions
Author: Jeff David Miller


Asking The Wrong Questions

J. David Miller

J. David Miller teaches Bible at Milligan College near Johnson City, Tennessee. This article was originally presented as a paper at CBE’s 2009 conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

Interpretation is a complex adventure. The reader compounds this complexity, in part by asking (and not asking) certain questions. Such questions guide and sometimes limit or even obstruct the interpretive process. Interpreters have tended to ask certain specific questions concerning Paul’s words about women. This article examines two such questions and finds them wanting.

No Singing Allowed: The Role Model Question

If the silence of Scripture as to woman’s public work... is reason sufficient to oppose it, then no woman should be allowed to sing in church, or partake of the Lord’s supper as there is not the faintest allusion in the Bible as to her having ever done either. —Sister Silena Moore Holman, 18881

The first question probes the Bible, especially the New Testament, for the presence (or absence) of women whose titles or actions may justify certain roles for modern women. This question could be phrased: What roles do women fill in the New Testament which can therefore also be filled by women today? Driving the question is the assumption that women currently need a biblical role model to permit participation in each potential task.

This role model question is common. Hierarchists and egalitarians alike ask it. The former remind us what Christian women did not do in the first century. They may point out, for example, that the New Testament contains no examples of women filling the roles of elder or preacher. The latter, on the other hand, celebrate roles women did fill. They emphasize, for example, Phoebe the deacon (Rom. 16:1) and Junia the apostle (Rom. 16:7).

Indeed, hierarchists and egalitarians have posed the role model question to the very same texts. For example, while the former focus on Priscilla the helper who taught only with her husband, Aquila, egalitarians emphasize Priscilla the teacher whom both Luke and Paul name first.2 Similarly, while egalitarians frequently appeal to Philip’s four daughters who filled the role of prophet (Acts 21:9), one hierarchal challenge argues that it would be “inappropriate to assume that one is a prophet in Acts, merely because he or she prophesies.”3

The role model question is natural. The Bible itself prompts us to emulate gre...

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