Today’s verse from God’s Little Instruction Book is a staple of inspirational literature. You may be familiar with it and the two verses preceding it; you may even have memorized one or more of them. As the book of Joshua opens, Moses has just died, and immediately God commissions Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. That’s where we find the verse of the day, Joshua 1:9.
Welcome back, people who read Chocolate Book. We continue to catch up on this week’s posts, camping out in the final verses of Matthew 12 for the Triad study. I read them again, and they haven’t changed; they are still about spiritual family. The Triad study suggests that on Day Four, we read them from the perspective of Jesus’ disciples, presumably to get a new view and new insights. Perhaps we’ll touch on that, but in order to get the post started, I want to talk about a thought that occurred to me as I was asking myself how the disciples might view Jesus’ words.
Oh no. Today’s chapter is a Controversy Box, and I’m going to have to open it. Not all of what Paul says to Timothy here will prove unpalatable or hard to swallow, of course. Christians will readily accede to his theology on Christ as Mediator, and even the generally religious or spiritual may see some interest or value in it; only an adamant antitheist would take serious issue with it, and while I try to accommodate the skeptics even as I accommodate my own inner skeptic, I don’t expect there are many religion-haters reading Chocolate Book. Paul’s views on political authorities here might be a little more divisive, but even a politically anti-authoritarian liberal-leaning Christian could see the value in praying for their native nation’s leaders, and for peace for all men. Moreover, Paul’s teachings on modesty in this chapter may even appeal to the feminist who’s willing to look closely at what he actually says. But then he gets into female submissiveness, and man, I am not looking forward to cracking open that can of worms.
The bulk of this chapter details the proper use of spiritual gifts, and its instructions are relatively uncontroversial. But near the end, just when you think we’re going to get through this one without any major issues, Paul drops this bomb on us: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (14:34-35). Why’d you have to open up that can of worms, Paul? Come on!
Honestly, I could split this chapter into three separate entries. Between gender roles, church divisions, and communion, Paul covers a broad swath of topics here. But if I looked into cultural contexts, Greek language, commentaries and interpretations, church tradition, practical application, and even further angles, I could write multiple entries on each of the topics Paul’s dealing with in this chapter, or in any chapter. And here’s the thing about All the Paul: there is a lot of Paul.
I remember a time in college when a friend volunteered to open the Christian Fellowship meeting with a prayer. The first words out of his mouth? “Our Mother, who art in Heaven.” It was like he’d dropped a bomb into the circle; even with my eyes closed, I could feel something shift in the room. After he finished praying, another member of the group quickly threw out a few conciliatory words about how God’s name “El Shaddai” referred to the Hebrew term for “breast,” but I remember thinking that God was masculine, not feminine, and that my friend’s invocation had been misled at best, possibly even out of line. I congratulated us on being such a charitable group to not require perfect theology from our “baby Christians.” Big pat on the back for us, right?