A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VII – 1 Corinthians 11

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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As mentioned in the previous blog, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church in order to address several issues within the Church. We now move into a section in which Paul address an issue that directly intersects with our society today: gender and sexuality. Within the Church, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 has been discussed extensively and the text has been central to numerous debates (such as the egalitarian/complementarian debate and the debate regarding head coverings). However, this passage has much to teach us regarding the meaning of gender and the relationship between the sexes.

The Foundational Analogy

We begin with v. 2-3

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:2-3, NASB)

We begin with the first statement that Christ is the head of every man. This affirms the truth that since Christ is the Creator and Preserver of all men, he must therefore be the head (or master and ruler) of mankind. Christ is the head of all men in that all gifts are derived from him and as the Lord of the nations, all are subject to Him. Moreover, He is the head of all believers since he is the head of the Church. As John Gill writes:

Yea, he is a natural head, or is that to his church, as an human head is to an human body: he is a true and proper head, is of the same nature with his body, is in union to it, communicates life to it, is superior to it, and more excellent than it.

In an analogous way, the head of Christ is God. This is not a reference to the divine nature of Christ because they are one in nature and essence. However, as to the human nature of Christ and the office that He fulfills, Scripture is abundantly clear that Christ hoped in God, believed and trusted in Him, loved Him, and was obedient to Him, even to the point of death. Christ voluntarily performed these tasks as our Mediator and voluntarily submitted to the Father. Therefore, it is proper to say that God is the head of Christ, in His humanity as the Mediator.

The Interdependence of the Sexes

In an analogous way, Paul states that man is the head of woman. Just as God is the head of Christ and Christ is the head of mankind, so is man the head of the two sexes. Paul grounds this argument based not on the Fall, but based on the order of creation. Since the man was formed first (v. 7) and since the woman was made for the man (v. 8), this implies that man must be the head and chief of the mankind.

However, it’s important to note that this statement is an analogy, not an identity. In other words, although man is the head of the two sexes, his headship is not identical to the headship that Christ has over mankind or the headship that God has over Christ. This point should be emphasized in order to prevent the historical error of believing that women are essentially inferior to man in all matters (whether within the Church or within civil society). Man exercises his headship in ways that are analogous to Christ’s headship over mankind. As the head of the woman, man is to provide and care for her, to nourish and cherish her, and to protect and defend her against all insults and threats. Therefore, there is a sense of authority and rule within the context of headship, but the connotation of the term is properly attached to beneficent governance.

It’s also important to note that although man is the head of his own wife , both man and woman are dependent upon each other (v. 11-12). Consider the following commentary on this passage from 19th century pastor F.B. Meyer:

No soul is complete in itself. The man is not complete apart from Christ, as the woman is not complete apart from man… But it is very interesting to notice that while the Gospel so clearly insists on the divine order, it has elevated woman to be man’s true helpmeet, and has caused her to be honored and loved as the glory of man. Neither society, nor family life, nor woman herself, can be happy unless she attains her true position. On the one hand she finds her completion in man; on the other she is his queen and he ministers to her in all gentleness and tenderness and strength.

The Consequences

This statement is worth emphasizing because of the historical error of undervaluing women (within the Church and within civic society). Contrary to popular belief, it was the proclamation and spread of the gospel that liberated women and elevated their worth because it is God who defines and determines the purpose of His creation. Insofar as  we reject God’s intention for the creation both sexes as complements to each other, we diminish and devalue their value.

One of the evidences regarding the growing secularism of our society involves the confusion of God’s purpose for creation. In the 20th century, we saw the rise of early feminism with regards to the fight for woman’s suffrage; however, the influence of second wave and third wave feminism has brought the discussion of biblical sexuality to the steps of the American Church. It was the influence of the second wave feminism of the 1960s that began to associate the “subjugation of women” with broader critiques of patriarchy, normative heterosexuality, and the woman’s role as wife and mother. Furthermore, it was during the second wave of feminism in which sex and gender were differentiated from each other. In the 21st century, we are now in the position of observing the next evolution of third wave feminism. This current wave of feminism stepped onto the public stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization, and defining feminine beauty for themselves (not as object of male patriarchy). Whereas second wave feminism separated sex and gender, third-wave feminism has asserted that the very notion of gender discourages experimentation and creative thought. This has led to the commentary from many secular sources that we are creating a society of feminized men and masculine women.

 

Fortunately, the Word of God has not left us in the dark in addressing this issue. Throughout 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Paul grounds his argument for headcoverings based on observable realities about the differences between man and woman. This means that Paul assumes that the Corinthian church understood that there are substantive differences between men and women (i.e. differences that extend beyond customs and cultures). Hence, in Paul’s mind, the audience of his letter already knew that sex and the modern concept of gender cannot be separated. Because God is the Creator, He alone has the prerogative to determine the purpose of His creation and this passage clearly teaches that woman was created for man (v. 9) and that woman is the crowning glory of man (v. 7). Hence, the modern idea of blurring the distinctions between men and women is a movement that is in rebellion against God’s original intention for woman to be the complementary pair of the human race.

Not only does God determine the original intention for woman and her relationship to her own husband , but He also determines feminine beauty. Consider Paul’s argument in v.13-15. Paul argues that special revelation is not needed to determine whether or not long hair is a woman’s glory. It is clear to all that long hair adorns a woman and is fitting for her sex. In modern terms, a woman’s biological features are consistent with her identity as a woman. This reiterates the point that it was never God’s intention to separate one’s sex (i.e. the biological construct) with one’s gender. Rather than seeing one’s biological makeup as a potential form of subjugation and oppression (which is becoming a common perspective among third wave feminists), God designed woman in such a way to fulfill her role as her husband’s  helpmeet and complement.

The Lord’s Supper

Paul concludes chapter 11 with a discussion of the Lord’s Supper. In this discussion, Paul gradually begins to return his readers to the discussion of love. He focuses the Corinthian church back on their attitudes toward one another, and he tells them yet again to stop being selfish. They were hosting love feasts but, ironically, they were not conducting them in a loving manner. As a result, Paul told them that they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Given that our present this section does not have any immediate implications for our study of Public Theology, we will not explore it further here.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part IV – Romans 13

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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As we round out our discussion of Romans note that, in our last three articles, we highlighted Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome. Paul’s mention of his desire in Romans 1:15-17 functions as the thesis statement of the letter:

So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’ (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

In the first two articles on Romans, we noted four themes in this thesis statement: a gospel for the church, the gospel as God’s power unto salvation, salvation to all without distinction and how, in this way, God will save all His chosen people. These four major themes help us to understand why Paul takes both the first eight chapters of Romans explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ and the following three chapters explaining the relationship between Israel and the church. Since the thesis statement of Romans 1:15-17 sets the framework for all that follows, we are in our present study using it as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In our last article and this one, we are focusing on the theme from faith to faith. Last article, we examined what chapters 12 and 14-16 taught on the matter. This article will focus exclusively on on how the theme is addressed in Romans 13.

In  chapter 13, Paul turns  the church’s gaze to the government and encourages them to see it as a minister of God for justice. He does not tell them to take the government by the reigns and wield its sword for the cause of social justice. Rather, more radically, he encourages them to submit to the government in all things lawful.

Paul sets the context of this passage in the preceding chapter , which discusses the characteristics of a true Christian lived “from faith to faith.” In Chapter 12, Paul addresses how Christians should conduct themselves in society and in the Church. In this chapter, Paul continues to address the characteristics of a true Christian by discussing how a Christian should conduct themselves with respect to the governing authorities. Furthermore, it’s important to note to whom Paul is writing. He is addressing Christians who are living under the Roman Empire during the 1st century. In some sense, Paul is exhorting the Roman Christians to apply the precepts of Romans 12 to the governing authorities. Finally, it’s important to note that Romans 13 does not contain all of the Bible’s teaching on this topic nor does Romans 13 only speak about the Christian’s conduct in regards to the State.

On Submission to Governing Authorities

Paul opens Romans 13 with a very clear imperative:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2; NASB).

Paul did not write this as a suggestion for the believer; rather, it is a command to all Roman believers and it has application to all Christians at all times.  Paul grounds this command in the sovereignty of God. According to Paul, all authority is derived from God, and therefore, if an authority is in power, it is because God has instituted that authority. In other words, rebellion against authority is rebellion against the One who instituted the authority. Paul’s essential exhortation is that the default Christian position towards governing authorities is submission.

This is a point worth emphasizing because for many American Christians, the default Christian position is skepticism or contempt for authority. When many Christians read this passage, the instinctive response is to discuss the limits of governmental authority, rather than considering Paul’s first exhortation concerning our submission to authority. The Christian must submit to God’s authority because it is God Himself who instituted this authority (cf. Num. 12:1-16). Moreover, God does not establish an authority arbitrarily; rather He has a goal in mind and the Christian is called to humble himself before the Lord and His plans.

This posture of humility and submission not only applies to our response to the government;  it is also observed throughout  Scripture for other institutions in which God has established authority. Within the home, the wife is called to submit to her husband’s authority (cf. Ephesians 5:22) and children are called to obey their parents  (cf. Ephesians 6:1). Within the local church, members are called to submit to the authority of the elders (cf. 1 Peter 5:5; Hebrews 13:7, 17). Hence, Paul’s command concerning submission to the governing authorities is not unique to the government.  This command regards every institution that God has established. Just as it would be sinful and unacceptable for children to disobey their parents and wives to disrespect  their husbands, it is sinful for Christians to rebel against the authority that God has established in the government. Finally, it’s also important to note that Paul does not ground this command based on the worthiness of the authority figure. In other words, governments do not have to prove their worthiness before we agree to submit to them. A beautiful summary of the posture that Christians ought to have towards the government is expressed in the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 127:

Q: What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors?

A: The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.

On the Exercise of Authority

In discussing the exercise of authority, Paul continues

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Rom. 13:3-5; NASB).

In this section, Paul describes the nature of governmental authority and how this authority is exercised. First, it should be noted that essential purpose of governmental authority is to punish evil. According to the above passage, the governing authorities are the means by which God punishes evildoers within society. In particular, it is through the governing authorities that fear is struck in the hearts of evildoers. It’s also important to note that this passage explicitly indicates that the government (not the Church or any other institution) wields the sword. This statement gives a very practical prescription for the purpose of government:  government must be a terror to bad conduct and plays an important role in the life of any given society.

This positive prescription tells us that those who hold positions in governing authority are responsible for carrying out their job description. The government’s essential duty is to initiate force against evildoers and to be an avenger against evildoers. This responsibility is not limited to theocratic Israel or a hypothetical Christian society, but it applies to all governing civil authorities that will ever exist. However, it should be noted that the wrath poured out on evildoers by the civil authority is punitive in nature. The purpose here is not to reconcile God and man (since God’s wrath against those who have offended Him is yet to come), but rather it is meant to bring restitution. Civil officials ought to be “devoted to this task” (13:6). It does not have the right to “wield the sword” towards good behavior nor do they have the right to permit bad conduct. This essential purpose of government was understood by previous generations and it gave rise to the rule of law within Western societies. The presence of fixed and respected laws in society (which commends good behavior and punishes bad behavior) tends to curb the actions and whims of tyrannical civil authorities who call evil “good” and good “evil”.

On the Support of Authority

From this job description, a question naturally arises. It is clear to all that there are different standards of good and bad behavior. We know that governing authorities will always wield the sword towards evildoers. What if the governing authorities create its own standards for good and evil, in contradiction to God’s Word? It is at this point in which Christians are best equipped to support the civil authority. First, because Christians are charged to maintain a humble and submissive posture towards the civil authority, this implies that Christians are charged to be good citizens, giving “tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom is due; fear to whom fear is due; honor to whom honor is due” (13:7). Second, because Christians are commanded to love their neighbor with words and deeds, this implies that Christians will “do no wrong to the neighbor” (13:10) and defend those who have been defrauded or wronged by evildoers.

Thirdly, because Christians possess the perfect standard of right and wrong (as expressed in the Scriptures) and have the moral law written about their heart, Christians are best equipped to inform civil authorities of their role and responsibility and society. This also suggests that God may use His children within the Church in order to serve their fellow man (and thus love their neighbor) by serving as a civil authority. However, it should be emphasized that when a Christian serves as a civil authority, he is not serving in an attempt to fulfill the Great Commission (which is a task given to the Church); he is fulfilling the Great Commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (13:9)

Furthermore, because Christians are given the proper perspective on the role of government, Christians ought to be best equipped in providing checks and balances to the expansion of government power beyond its proper bounds. Just as it is possible for the local church to extend its influence beyond its proper bounds and engage in “mission creep”, it is also true that the government can also engage in “mission creep”. The civil authority is not given the charge to care for the poor, to educate its citizens, or to do a number of other things that is responsibility of families and individuals. We can say that a Christian’s submission to the government is unconditional yet limited to its proper bounds. It is only when the civil authority oversteps its bounds (by commanding what God forbids and forbidding what God requires) that the Christian can (and must) appeal to authority, confront authority, and, perhaps, flee from authority. In this way, Christians can engage with the civil authority without becoming the civil authority or without rebelling against the civil authority.

It should also be noted that, as Americans, we have both the privilege and responsibility of living within representative form of government. This form of government is a relatively modern concept and contrary to any form of government that is observed in Scripture. In particular, within our Constitution, citizens have the protected right to petition the government. Moreover, since we elect our officials (rather than having our civil authorities imposed upon us), we have a form of government in which the civil authorities answer to their citizens. Therefore, if we were to apply the precepts of this chapter to our current society, Christian citizens must know what are the essential responsibilities of civil magistrates . Just as civil authorities will be held responsible for fulfilling their job description, citizens will also answer to God for how they have chosen their civil authorities. Hence, American Christians, as members of the American ruling class, should provide a practice check on the influence of governing authorities first by respectfully confronting authority when it exceeds its proper domain and second by electing civil authorities who will fulfill their essential job descriptions.

Our Final Hope

Paul concludes Chapter 13 with an exhortation regarding the future hope of believers. Christians are called to conduct themselves in a godly manner with respect to the world and the civil authority because “salvation is nearer to us than when we believed” (13:11). In much of our discussion regarding the Christian’s engage with the culture, it’s important to never forget the ultimate end – our full and final salvation. The gospel is proclaimed, not only because we desire to see the evil of this present age curbed; rather, it is proclaimed because “the night is almost gone, and the day is near.” The day of our salvation as well as the day of eschatological judgment is near. We proclaim the gospel and engage with our culture and the civil authorities because we desire that they would know the salvation that has been purchased with Christ’s blood.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Ministry of Paul, Part II

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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In the previous blog, we began our discussion on the public theology of Paul in Acts by examining the events during Paul’s first and second missionary journeys. We observed how Paul confronted the idolatry present in various Gentile cities from Lystra to Athens. We also observed how Paul’s ministry of preaching not only affected the individual lives of converts, but it also affected social activities within various cities such as Philippi and Ephesus. The last quarter of the book of Acts deals with Paul’s journey from Jerusalem to Rome. Unlike his previous missionary journeys, Paul’s primary audience was not the crowds, but specific rulers themselves. This section gives us particular insight on how Paul interacted with authority and how Paul wisely took advantage of his Roman citizenship.

Paul Before the Roman Tribune and the Council

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem in Acts 21, he is quite aware that he is going to face hostility from the Jewish people. When he enters the temple, he addresses the Jewish crowd in the Hebrew language, explaining his testimony and how the Lord commissioned him as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 22:1-20). Once Paul mentioned his calling to the Gentiles, the crowd stopped listening and shouted for his death. The Roman tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging to find out why they were shouting against him like this. At this point, Paul asked a question to the officer, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” (22:25) Since Paul was a Jew (who was currently in a low station in life), the Roman officer questioned how he obtained so valuable a distinction; Paul told him that he was born a Roman citizen (22:28-29). Clearly, this is part of God’s wise providence. Paul’s status as a Roman citizen gives him privileges that many people did not have – namely he was exempted from all trials and punishments which might force him to confess himself guilty. Therefore, the Roman officer unbound him and brought Paul before the Sanhedrin.

Paul’s interaction with the Sanhedrin gives us insight into how one should interact with authority. When Paul addressed the Sanhedrin, the high priest commanded those who stood by to strike him on the mouth. Not knowing that he was addressing the high priest, Paul retorts in a very disrespectful way (22:3). Upon learning that he was addressing the high priest, Paul replies,” I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” Paul receives a firm rebuke for addressing the high priest in a disrespectful manner and Paul accepts this correction. This scene illustrates that Paul’s natural disposition towards leadership (whether godly or ungodly) is that of submission. Thus, when Paul seeks to defend himself for the sake of the gospel, he does so not out of defiance to authority, but by appealing to authority.

Paul Before Governors and Kings

When Paul is brought before Felix at Caesarea, the Jews laid their case against Paul as “one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5). Giving due respect to Felix, Paul cheerfully makes his defense. He claims that no one found him disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd (24:12-13). Moreover, when Paul entered the temple, they found him purified in the temple without any crowd or tumult (24:17-19). After his defense, Felix gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody (with some liberty) in hopes that Paul would bribe Felix (24:26). In spite of this, it is said that Paul “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” to Felix (24:25). In all, Felix left Paul in prison for two years.

When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Festus. As Paul is brought down to Caesarea, he continues to assert his rights as a Roman citizen by appealing to Caesar (25:6-12). After some days had passed since Paul’s appeal, King Agrippa greeted Festus and agreed to hear Paul’s case. Paul’s defense before Agrippa is an example of the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:17-20:

“Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (ESV).

In his appeal, Paul tells of his conversion and preaches the gospel. This indicates that Paul’s primary intention is not his own integrity, but the proclamation of the Word. He states directly that he stands on trial “because of my hope in the promise made by God to our Fathers” (26:8; ESV) – namely the resurrection of Jesus. In explaining his conversion, he concluded that he was disobedient to the heavenly vision, but first declared to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles that “they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”

After hearing Paul’s defense, Festus is convinced that Paul has lost his mind, whereas Agrippa is persuaded to hear more of his case. These events lead to Paul’s trip to Rome in which he can make his appeal directly to Caesar. The book of Acts concludes with the following words:

“He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:30-31, ESV).

Concluding Thoughts

What conclusions can we derive from Paul’s interactions with Roman officials? The most important principle that we should derive concerns the principle of appealing to authority. Paul’s disposition towards authority is expressed well in The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 127:

Q. 127. What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors?

A: The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.

In other words, men in authority ought to be given due honor and respect because of the position in which they hold. Thus, it would be considered sinful to stubbornly resist and to make any display that brings shame and dishonor to their person and authority. This is expressed well in The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 128:

Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?

A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.

This answer implies that our first response to any authority in which we may disagree should be to appeal to authority, not to defy or rebel against it. Appealing to authority implies that we have certain rights as citizens and to appeal properly, we must persuasively take our case to the authorities. This concept of respecting and appealing to authority will be elaborated on in much more detail as we discuss the public theology found in the Pauline epistles.