Do we confuse descriptive with prescriptive?


“We consider passages on slavery, like those in the OT describing incest, as descriptive rather than prescriptive. That is, a passage instructing a slave to serve their master well is not condoning the system of slavery, but instructing us how to behave if we find ourselves in that situation. And yet, how much of the complementarian view is based on the very same kind of admonition? If, as I am constantly reminded at every Christian men’s event, submission passages imply that God’s design was for men to be above women, why then can we flip that on its head with the slavery passages? Two words … Double. Standard.”

Just some thoughts in response to my friend’s post. This is an important question – and one that is essential to look at Biblically, because we all tend toward our own theological system, we must go back to the Word and get our theology from God, not Calvin (or get our pastoral theology from Jesus not Calvin as one of my professors always says).

Restating the question: have we read passages in the NT as prescriptive when in fact they are only descriptive (specifically applied to passages on the wife/husband relationship in comparison with passages on the slave/master relationship)?

Some thoughts that might help us come to a right understanding, specifically of the slave vs. marriage topic:

I think a main difference between these two subjects is this: marriage was ordained (created) by God (Gen. 2:20-24), slavery was not (men thought it up themselves – though God used it).

Marriage is called a good thing and the one who marries finds favor with God (Proverbs 18:22) – and a excellent wife more precious that jewels (Proverbs 31:10). Never is slavery considered in this positive, affirming way.

And while both are used as pictures of our relationship to God (Rom. 6:18; Eph. 5:25) – marriage is never used as a negative example, while slavery is (we were slaves to sin–Rom. 6:17).

I also think (as Lee pointed out), that the difference of words used when the Bible refers to each is important – slaves obey, wives be subject, respect etc., husbands love.

When the Bible speaks of slaves obeying their masters it is always “as for the Lord” or “as to Christ” (Col. 3:23; Eph. 6:5)

In the same way wives are called to be subject to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22) But also some difference as it is referred as something that is “fitting in the Lord” (Col. 3:18).

There is a special relationship between the husband and the wife that does not exist in a master/slave relationship – mainly that if a husband loves his wife, the Bible states that he is loving himself (Eph. 5:28) – again rather than saying “as unto the Lord” it makes a direct comparison, “just as Christ also does the church” (Eph. 5:29).

The Bible never makes a direct connection with masters/slaves to Christ and the Church – it never states: “For the master is the head of the slave, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.

This should tell us something is different.

Also, when arguing why women should be silent/not teach – Paul makes appeals for this relationship (that mirror the commands on marriage as discussed previously) he appeals to outside sources and non-cultural facts/data.

Appeal to “the Law” (1 Corinthians 14:34)

Appeal to “Eve” (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

Appeal to “angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10)

But never is there an appeal made for the existence of slavery or the relationships of slaves to masters.

I don’t think our perspective on the marriage relationship falls under the category of “taking passages as prescriptive that are really only descriptive” – but there might be others that we do.

I personally can’t think of any off hand – but I would be interested if anyone can give some examples.

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47 Responses to Do we confuse descriptive with prescriptive?

  1. Ben says:

    I think you had basically three proofs for distinction of roles here, or rather for not applying tSoG fallacy #4 to this issue:

    1) Marriage is ordained by God and never considered negative.

    The “ordained by God” one is a very strong rebuttal. Marriage, however, is sometimes considered negative. Consider, “it is better to sit on the corner of a roof … ” :)

    In addition, the CBMW style complementarian view, I think, goes beyond the Biblical model, which contains many instructions for singleness and single people. There is an implication of their view that makes single people seem to be ineffective and cast-out in the church, which is cultural. Especially women … there’s this idea that “if you aren’t under a man, you should be.” That’s not really relevant to the issue here though, which is one of interpretation and not implication. Basically, I am saying, that ordainment by God is good but does not entail the “chain of being” type relation that they (CBMW) end up falling into.

    2) Difference of verbage (Lee’s)

    I responded to this one on my blog. In concert with the other two, this argument is helpful, but I don’t think it stands on its own as a response, because the concept is independent of verbage (that is, that passages like this can be misread as prescriptive when they are descriptive). It does mean that the question of whether tSoG #4 applies to each passage must be evaluated separately, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that tSoG #4 could not apply to the marriage sections.

    3) Paul’s general appeals

    Hm, yeah, that’s the hardest one to deal with. Obviously there are some passages that would make even CBMW uncomfortable there, 1 Tim in particular. I don’t really have a response to those ready. Of course, those passages are more about the place of women in general, which is not exactly hitting the issue at hand head on (place of women in the marriage relationship, or more specifically, interpretation of Eph 5/6).

  2. Lee says:

    I can think of at least one historical and egregious example of taking descriptive passages as prescriptive – those discussing slavery. The passages used were probably mostly from the OT, but I’d think they would have to incorporate the NT passages somehow as well. There are also the narrative passages where people lie to save lives (Rahab is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, but there have to be others), the staple of the Jr. high Sunday School class…

  3. Ben says:

    I know a lot of people who would not call those lying passages “descriptive” … a few times I’ve encountered this. It goes like this … the principle that it is never acceptable to lie does not come from scripture, but from John Locke. They would take passages like Rahab’s lie (and further, stories like God sending a deceiving spirit or Jesus telling His family He was not going to the feast, and then going secretly) to indicate that lying is not outlawed 100%.

  4. Lee says:

    Really? Out of curiosity, what do these people say about, oh, the 9th commandment, or

    Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are His delight. (NAS)

    or

    Col 3:8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, (NKJV)

    , etc?

    Is the reference to Jesus and the feast the passage in Luke 2 when Jesus was 12? I don’t see any deception there…

    I’m not saying that there won’t be times when deception is the lesser of two evils and is therefore the path one should take – I’m just trying to understand the position that would (apparently) state that those narrative passages trump the prescriptive passages…

  5. Ben says:

    Well, for one thing, the ninth commandment is relative to an oath … “do not bear false witness”. The Proverbs verse I have no answer for, but the Colossians one is one I brought up. I can’t remember exactly, but I’d guess it’s the same kind of “this is a good way to live, but not an inalienable law” that coarse joking would have to be, since Paul himself employs it on occasion.

    The feast reference I’m talking about is in John 7. Jesus appears to tell his brothers he will not go up to a particular feast. Once they leave, he goes up in secret.

    As to narrative trumping prescription, that Paul one is a good example. Paul says, “refrain from coarse joking.” He also says, “I wish [the judaizers] would take it the whole way and emasculate themselves.” The latter requires you to modify application of the former.

  6. Lee says:

    I guess we’ll leave the 9th commandment alone for now… But there’s also

    Proverbs 6:16
    There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
    6:17
    Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood,
    6:18
    A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil,
    6:19
    A false witness {who} utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers. (NAS)

    where lying and bearing false witness are distinct, yet both considered to be abominations by God.

    The John 7 passage is a bit complex, even if your translation leaves out the “yet” in “I am not [yet] going…” due to the source text it uses. Jesus clearly states that there are timing issues in verses 6 & 8… not very solid ground for this position, in my view.

    I’ve always thought that Paul was pretty serious there. Vincent says:

    12. They were cut off (apokoyontai). More correctly, would cut themselves off. Perhaps the severest expression in Paul’s Epistles. It turns on the practice of circumcision. Paul says in effect: “These people are disturbing you by insisting on circumcision. I would that they would make thorough work of it in their own case, and, instead of merely amputating the foreskin, would castrate themselves, as heathen priests do. Perhaps that would be even a more powerful help to salvation.” With this passage should be compared Philip. iii. 2, 3, also aimed at the Judaisers: “Beware of the concision” (thn katatomhn), the word directing attention to the fact that these persons had no right to claim circumcision in the true sense. Unaccompanied by faith, love, and obedience, circumcision was no more than physical mutilation. They belonged in the category of those referred to in Lev. xxi. 5. Comp. Paul’s words on the true circumcision, Rom. ii. 28, 29; Philip. iii. 3; Col. ii. 11.

    And Wuest, who also quotes Vincent later, says:

    The town of Pessinus was the home of the worship of Cybele in honor of whom bodily mutilation was practiced. The priests of Cybele castrated themselves. This was a recognized form of heathen self-devotion to the god and would not be shunned in ordinary conversation. This explains the freedom with which Paul speaks of it to his Galatian converts.

  7. Ben says:

    Can you seriously not see Paul’s statement as a joke? This guy’s interpretation sounds pretty obtuse to me, and even if there was a practice of mutilation he was referring to, I don’t think it invalidates my point: that the moratorium on coarse joking could not be universal. Who is this guy, anyway?

    There’s at least one other passage, as well, where Paul uses language that could be considered crude in English, but doesn’t get translated with quite the thrust of the original language.

    If you don’t find John 7 compelling, how about 2 Chronicles 18? Is it hypocritical for God to command against lying all the time and then send a deceiving spirit? I don’t know why I’m even defending this, but it’s certainly … there.

  8. Tato says:

    The funny thing about the statement by Paul is that it is a play on words in Greek… peri-tome (circumcision) literally means “around-cutting”… the katatome (which I’ve heard is a made up word) means “down-cutting/against-cutting”… basically saying they may as well cut of their you-hoos.

  9. nathanwells says:

    maybe it’s not “coarse jesting” because the truth is at stake :)

  10. Lee says:

    Which guy? Vincent or Wuest? I’ve always thought they were pretty well-respected, but I’d be curious to hear what our seminarians think of them.

    More on Cybele.

  11. Lee says:

    And yes, I can read that as Paul being quite serious, and I didn’t even know about Cybele before today…

  12. Ben says:

    Tato agrees with me, Nathan abstaining. That’s it, we have a simple majority. Our interpretation is correct.

  13. Lee says:

    He does?

    Nathan has hinted at a position, and it’s not yours ;-)

  14. […] 24th, 2007 by seminarian Nathan Wells over at the Grasping the Cross blog has a post entitled, “Do we confuse descriptive with prescriptive?”  In it, he wonders in […]

  15. Tato says:

    Ben – I just answered the rally call of “liberals unite”.

  16. Tato says:

    For the record: I think that Paul’s statement is beyond joking… in the context of the book of Galatians and Paul’s heart (that the works of the Law/circumcision are not pre-requisites for faith in Jesus). Instead of joking the statement is hyperbole with a strong hint of anger. You see that in Gal 5:7 – You were running well. Who hindered your from obeying the truth?
    5:10 And the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.
    etc.
    It is evident that this mentality of needing to conform to Jewish tradition/heritage/standard before you can be counted in Christ through faith was a very serious offense in the eyes of Paul.

    So maybe not “course jesting”, but definitely hyperbole. Maybe Paul is taking the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – cut off your right hand and throw it into the fire a little too literally. If circumcision is the offense that is causing them to stumble they should cut it off and throw it into the fire? (Kidding).

    By the way Paul does use language that can be considered crude in English… I found out from some Chinese Christians that the word translated as rubbish in Phi 3:8 is the curse word for dung in their Bible – because that was the Greek usage of the word.

  17. Tato says:

    For the record: I think that Paul’s statement is beyond joking… in the context of the book of Galatians and Paul’s heart (that the works of the Law/circumcision are not pre-requisites for faith in Jesus). Instead of joking the statement is hyperbole with a strong hint of anger. You see that in Gal 5:7 – You were running well. Who hindered your from obeying the truth?
    5:10 And the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.
    etc.
    It is evident that this mentality of needing to conform to Jewish tradition/heritage/standard before you can be counted in Christ through faith was a very serious offense in the eyes of Paul.

    So maybe not “course jesting”, but definitely hyperbole. Maybe Paul is taking the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – cut off your right hand and throw it into the fire a little too literally. If circumcision is the offense that is causing them to stumble they should cut it off and throw it into the fire? (Kidding).

    By the way Paul does use language that can be considered crude in English… I found out from some Chinese Christians that the word translated as rubbish in Phi 3:8 is the curse word for dung in their Bible – because that was the Greek usage of the word.

  18. Ben says:

    Well, I’m not saying it’s merely a joke … but what if a super-Reformed person (who believes in infant baptism) says to a Baptist … you want to be baptized again? Why don’t you take it the whole way, and stay underwater for good? Even if they’re angry, there’s still an element of a joke in it.

    My point, in any case, was that many of the statements in the NT like “refrain from coarse jesting” need not be taken as “9th commandment-level” admonitions … because Paul doesn’t always follow his own advice. If this doesn’t convince you, then Ph. 3:8 should, right?

  19. Lee says:

    Baptism analogy – hardly an equivalent situation (see the first 1/2 of Tato’s comment)…

    Phil 3:8 – if I were a Chinese person reading that translation and didn’t have any other resources, then I would have a problem, yes. But the translators may have gotten it wrong — go here for an apposite thread. (It’s tough to follow the thread using the Next Message links for some reason, so you’ll want to keep going back to the subject listing link above. There is some chaff there, but also a number of useful posts.)

  20. Ben says:

    I hope you mean not equivalent in the sense of it not being coarse. They’re both the same type of humor, though, even if the person is in deadly earnest (as I heard last night — someone told me about some re-baptizers during the reformation period who were drowned by someone who didn’t like the idea). And a castration joke, even if used to support a truth, even if in earnest, is still ‘coarse jesting’.

    The Ph 3:8 question is probably not definitively answerable. I think you’re missing the forest for the trees, though …

    At Spirit West Coast one time, I head Tony Campolo say the following (pardon my french)

    “X number of children die from starvation every day and you don’t give a sh*t. The worst part about it is that you care more about the fact that I just said ‘sh*t’ than that children are dying.”

    A lot of people I talked to thought that was really wrong of him to do. In a certain sense he is breaking taboos, and the consequences of saying a statement like that could be more than he intends … but if Paul did it … ?

    This is why it is important to decide on passages like these, because it is the difference between Tony Campolo having done something really wrong — and on the other side — the people judging him doing something really wrong. We could make the same accusation against Paul that those folks made against TC — even though your point was good, you shouldn’t have said it (if those judgers are correct).

  21. Tato says:

    We are digressing into the question of what makes language “bad”/”good”.

    As to the course jesting thing: IMO words are given meaning via their context… and in Paul’s situation in the book of Galatians the context was anger at the terms of the Judaizers – the need to accept the law and circumcision in order to be in relationship with God. Galatians is not a happy go lucky book and the law is definitely downplayed. I believe Paul was trying to make a point in the terms of language used… the idea being that the law is not a friend of yours – it is as if you emasculated yourself. And it is especially not a good thing to follow in the light of the grace offered by Jesus Christ. The law points to him and to think otherwise is to miss the point. This apparently angered Paul to the point where he would use language and hyperbole to a level that we are not “comfortable” with.

    I think it is funny that there is so much made of Paul using a “bad word”. I think Tony Campolo’s comment is funny because it obviously exposed the heart… what are we more concerned with, personal moral parameters or people who are in need of the compassion that Jesus offers? And seriously what makes a word a “bad” word? It is the meaning and intent behind it correct? Then shouldn’t this anger (if it is really provable of course) of Paul’s be enough to condemn minus the course jesting?

  22. Lee says:

    No, I’m talking about the fact that your example doesn’t equate to the Apostle Paul writing to combat a heresy which was threatening the establishment of the early church, and expressing the depth of his dismay over the attempts to sidetrack his readers with something that was not the gospel. Not equivalent situations, and, so far, I don’t see that anyone has established that Paul was jesting – or even using a word which would have caused his original audience to think twice about coarse jesting.

    I appreciate your example – but again, we have yet to establish that Paul’s original audience would have thought him to be using off-color language…

  23. Ben says:

    I think those folks who killed people for re-baptizing thought it was pretty serious. They would have said it was equivalent. That’s not even the point, anyway.

    I don’t know dude, of course it’s a subjective issue, but it’s pretty plain to me what’s going on in these passages. As I said, you can’t really know either way, but the folks in that thread seemed to think there was some credence to a vulgar interpretation of Ph 3:8.

    I think you’re treating this too “detail-oriented” … I mean, how can you evaluate “whether Paul was jesting” with the approach you’re taking, anyway? It’s too subjective a thing to be treated in that way (dissection). And in any case, if not jesting, we could look at a dozen other passages from Paul’s own writings denouncing coarse language and speech. I think you’re getting so hung up on the details that you’re missing the point of what I’m saying. Have I proven that it’s coarse speech? Not quite, but neither have you proved that it isn’t. You seem to feel that in absence of a conclusion, your view carries the day. Unfortunately, the conclusion you want just isn’t possible with something as subjective as language.

  24. Lee says:

    Analogy issue: I think you’re missing my point this time ;-) Whatever the fracas was over concerning re-baptizing (which wasn’t your original, light-hearted example – which would be even less apt here), neither side carries the weight of Apostolic authority, neither side has their arguments, written by them, in the Bible. So no matter how terminal the discussion was, no matter how seriously each side argued, it just doesn’t equate.

    Coarse jesting: How can you say that the language is plain to you? Are you a speaker of 1st century Greek? Are you a fisherman, farmer, or merchant receiving a letter from Paul containing words which can easily sound like coarse jesting 2000 years after the fact having been translated close to 2000 years after being written, and then read on a cell phone? These are not doctrinal, foundational verses which contain themes which can be examined in light of dozens of other passages; in fact, skubalon is actually a one-off – this is the only time it appears in the NT. Why wouldn’t you want to do a little digging, pay attention to the details, and see if you’re dealing with a contradiction, paradox, or understandable bit of text? That’s why I’m taking this route.

    Let me give you an example of where you (yes, even you, Ben) probably take another potentially tricky NT word in its proper context and don’t apply a 21st century spin on it: splagchnon, which is translated as “heart” in NAS, but “bowels” in KJV, which is closer to the literal original, from what I understand. However, you understand Paul to be making a reference to a “heart of compassion” in Col 3:12, for example, rather than to your intestines, which would be considered at least mildly off-putting in today’s context. Agree?

    Anyway, here’s what looks like an even more well-researched post: Skubalon

  25. nathanwells says:

    That is a very interesting article on Skubalon Lee – I never have really read anything on it.

  26. Ben says:

    1st para: Ok, but I don’t see that as relevant. Certainly it makes Paul right and those folks probably wrong, but I was equating the type of expression employed and not the rightness or wrongness. What are you (not) equating?

    2nd para: I think I meant the Gal. passage. Language like this is intuitively sensed, and thus it would be very hard to objectively narrow it down like you want; although the same is true with profanity; the question could be unanswerable for a dead language. As to skubalon, that post has some good points. Even if it’s not analogous to a bad word though, isn’t using feces as an example still coarse speech, even if milder? Perhaps it wasn’t in 1st century Greek culture, but I doubt it. His point about agrarian society kind of discounts stuff like the fact that the s-word has been a bad word for centuries, well back into the agrarian era.

    3rd para: Now, I’m the one who doesn’t see that example as relevant. With the whole heart / bowels thing, it is a pretty clear difference, because we have a precedent for the word’s use in place of our English concept of “heart”. If we read “I feel it in my bowels” we would probably laugh, but only because of a misunderstanding on the part of the translator of the usage of bowels in Greek. From what Tato said, the Gal. passage is not misunderstood when it is translated as a reference to castration. So, rather than being a translation issue it is a … hm … question of “what tone is he employing?”

  27. Tato says:

    I got passages confused earlier… Gal 5:12 and Phi 3:2… in Phi 3:2 Paul uses the “made up word”… in Gal 5:12 he uses the word for castration… and a word that expresses a “fruitless wish” (Ophelon)

    Paul in Philippians 3:2 combines the ending for peri-tome (circumcision) with a preposition (kata) creating the word :katatome… which (from what I have heard people discuss) is a pauline original… which reads: look out for the dogs who mutilate the flesh.

    I don’t see how a reference to castration can be taken as anything other than “off color”. Especially in a culture of circumcision that disregards eunuchs… (OT Law against them being part of the “assembly”)… and especially when the target is someone who is spouting off heresies. There is definite anger/frustration throughout Galatians.

    As far as Skubalon, the article is interesting, but there are two sides to every argument… and I have had people with PHDs in language make reference to its coarseness. The context there is very similar to the Galatians context: the worthlessness of finding standing before God in religious service and works. They are “dung” when compared to the infinite joy of being “found in Him”.

    Anyways, how did this whole conversation get started? Reference to coarse jesting being descriptive and not prescriptive?

  28. Tato says:

    Lee where are you getting all these greek reference things from?

  29. Tato says:

    The previous comment was out of curiosity, it wasn’t accusatory.
    FYI, Dung is an option in translation to the Skubala… and it is hard to infer based on one NT source since most of the other written Greek statements were in Classical Greek and not Koine Greek (which typically wasn’t written down – which is one of the amazing thins about the NT, if it was meant to be “preserved” over time the writers should have written it in Classical Greek, but instead they write it in the common language to have it read aloud, discussed and spread abroad).

    Anyways, the point is that cross-checking it in other Greek Resources would be hard to do since it may have been used in drama, poetry and other writings, but that brings up further inquiry into the time in which they were written since words shift/change meaning over the course of years, let alone centuries.

    the point is that it can be translated as dung… which is a nice word for something else. Matthew Henry added this in his commentary:

    “Why he tells us that he had himself practised according to this estimate of the case: For whom I have suffered the loss of all things. He had quitted all his honours and advantages, as a Jew and a Pharisee, and submitted to all the disgrace and suffering which attended the profession and preaching of the gospel. When he embarked in the bottom of the Christian religion, he ventured all in it, and suffered the loss of all for the privileges of a Christian. Nay, he not only counted them loss, but dung, skybala–offals thrown to dogs; they are not only less valuable than Christ, but in the highest degree contemptible, when they come in competition with him.”

    For some reason he sees it as dung thrown to dogs(his historical take on the word?)… which in reference in the text here was previously used to point out the Judaizers (see Phi 3:2 where they are called the dogs who mutilate the flesh – with that word katatome) – of course that is only Matthew Henry’s interpretation of the passage, but I thought I would point it out.

  30. dslavich says:

    Here’s what I think:

    1. Scripture clearly commends both the Hebrew midwives and Rahab for their actions — lying. This is different than just the prescriptive/descriptive debate because Scripture comments on it specifically. Is lying sinful? Yes, but, in certain cases, it seems that other factors play in. The Hebrew midwives lied, because they feared God more than men. Rahab, by faith, lied and hid the Israelite spies. The issue is the standing of one’s heart toward God.

    2. Paul is clearly saying in Galatians that he wishes that the Judaizers would cut their junk off if they are going to insist on circumcision. It is a play on words, as Tato said (“peritome” and “katatome”).

    3. I think theological discussions like this are valuable, but, man, are we really spurring each other on to love and good deeds here? This has been a hectic and massively stressful week. In a lot of ways I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water. I’m scared to death about the future, because I have no idea what I’m going to be doing in a year from now when I graduate. I want to pursue the knowledge of God and a deeper understanding of the Scriptures.

    But the more I learn, the more I realize that learning is the not end. It is means toward an end — God himself in the face of Christ. I want to know Jesus, and to become more like Jesus. I don’t think discussions like this are worthless. Just the opposite — when they are helpful. I have started and contributed to many such discussions, but I don’t think that endlessly discussing whether “skubalon” means “sh*t” helps me that much.

  31. Ben says:

    I think … it started like this:

    Lee: Rahab’s lie is an example of a passage that should be interpreted … “descriptively”.

    Ben: I know some people who would not read it that way.

    Lee: Really? Are they insane? What about “no filthy language … do not lie to each other”?

    Ben: Well, that passage could be an example of “illustration of the right way to walk, rather than an inalienable law”. As in the case of Paul preaching against coarse speech, and speaking coarsely on occasion.

    Lee: Those passages are inconclusive.

    (hijinks ensue)

  32. Tato says:

    To clarify… the whole idea is that these passages differentiate via describing an event vs. prescribing how things should always be… correct?

  33. Ben says:

    I think by the time we got to “Is Paul’s language occasionally coarse?” we were no longer talking about descriptive vs. prescriptive; but yes, that is a good summation of the original distinction. If you read my post about the Science of God, that’s where it started.

    The current discussion is (to my mind) more of a “are all NT commands an inalienable law, or can they be just advice on how to live a godly life?”. If Paul is coarse, his injunctions on coarseness cannot be taken as inalienable, or he breaks his own rules. This probably should have been point no. 5 on my Science of God post, I just didn’t think of it.

    The whole women’s roles thing comes into play with this question, too … if some NT commands are “advice” and not an inalienable law, then we might not have to take the definition of an elder as “having one wife” as a literal rule for every church.

    Of course, this greatly lessens the clarity of scripture if it is true, in the sense that creating a systematic theology becomes *much* more difficult if you have to evaluate each time whether or not a command is “advice” or “law”. I think I previously covered this topic (from a different angle) here:

    http://daretodecide.wordpress.com/2006/06/28/freedom-3/

  34. Tato says:

    Isn’t this essentially debatable with all passages then? I mean couldn’t people argue this with any passage or command?

    Why wouldn’t we just assume that they are all prescriptive?

    So an example of a descriptive passage would be one like(?): 1 Cor 7:8-9… better to marry than to burn with passion.

    Sorry, I know that these terms (descriptive/prescriptive) are assumed knowledge, but I want to verify.

  35. Lee says:

    No, no, no – it started like this:

    Ben: “[T]he principle that it is never acceptable to lie does not come from scripture…”

    Lee: “Really? [What about] the 9th commandment, or [other verses]? … I’m just trying to understand the position that would (apparently) state that those narrative passages trump the prescriptive passages…”

    Ben: “As to narrative trumping prescription, that Paul one is a good example. Paul says, “refrain from coarse joking.” He also says, “I wish [the judaizers] would take it the whole way and emasculate themselves.” The latter requires you to modify application of the former.”

    Lee: Those passages are inconclusive – you can’t argue against prescriptive passages–or even inconsistency in talk/walk by Paul–using them.

    etc., ad nauseum.

    Tato – no worries. I’m not sure which references you’re talking about, but here are my sources:
    – Google search for skubalon for the analysis post/thread
    – PreceptAustin.org for Vincent and other commentaries
    – my copies of Wuest’s commentaries for Wuest
    – BibleStudyTools.net (aka Crosswalk) for commentaries and the Greek lexicon for definitions, usage counts, etc. (which incidentally does list the non-scatalogical possible meanings for skubalon, but I didn’t think an appeal to the lexicon, or MH for that matter, would satisfy…)

    Incidentally, some commentators actually reference “being cut off” from the assembly in their metaphorical interpretations of Gal 5:12… I was certain that this wouldn’t satisfy ;-) (See JF&B.)

  36. Lee says:

    Here are examples from the extreme ends of the spectrum on the descriptive/prescriptive question:
    – Descriptive – 2 Sam 13 – Amnon raping his sister.
    – Prescriptive – Matt 22:37-39 – the greatest commandment, and the 2nd.

  37. nathanwells says:

    Be sure and read Danny’s comment – it is above.

  38. Ben says:

    Lee, I think you and I have been having two different conversations. :)

  39. Ben says:

    Thanks, Nathan, I would have missed it.

    Danny: I responded to your comment here

    http://daretodecide.wordpress.com/2007/10/26/edification/

  40. Tato says:

    Danny, thanks for the comment. I think that we all go through phases where this stuff/discussion either appeals or seems fruitless. It is good to have a reminder about the intent and purpose of discussing this sort of thing should be centered on the fueling of our faith in Christ and knowing him more deeply. I think inherently we (and I am using it in the “royal we” sense) all get caught up in the idea of trying to be right (something I fall victim too often – aka – why I don’t participate in the calvinism discussion anymore) or the idea of making our point know (to be “understood”).

    I will be praying for you. I would also appreciate it likewise from everyone here… my mind is a tub of jello at the moment for a variety of reasons.

    By the way are you guys coming out to CA during the holiday season at all?

  41. dslavich says:

    I like that we have had a reunion of sorts through blogging. I enjoy having good discussions. Often it’s hard to interact a lot through comments, because between school, work, church, writing, marriage, etc, I don’t always have a ton of time. I haven’t even had time to read the NOBC book yet.

    But I am glad for blogging together, and interacting with each other.

    Maybe we could do a weekly “personal update” on our blogs or something.

  42. nathanwells says:

    I’m glad we are blogging and interacting as well – the focus is good, and we should always be asking ourselves how we are applying the truth of God’s word to our hearts and lives.

    I appreciate Danny’s words, as well as the interaction you all have given. And no, I can’t keep up with everything, but still, it is good, as we continually keep our eyes focused on Christ. It can be a tool for our growth and personal holiness.

  43. Lee says:

    Yes – thanks for the perspective, Danny – and I have been (and will be) praying for you, too!

    I have to confess that I get caught up in “being right” easily, and I can’t always distinguish a desire to be right from trying to get at the truth. And I’m a detail person, so I also can easily lose track of the goal…

    Ben – one last point :-) Are you saying that Titus 1:6 and 1 Tim 3:2 lay down a requirement that an elder must be married? Both passages actually say that he must be “the husband of one wife”, which is (perhaps subtly) different from your quote. Is the emphasis there that he must be married, or that he must not be 1. divorced and remarried, or 2. a polygamist? Neither of those statements excludes an unmarried man. Furthermore, what is the tenor of the passages containing this admonition? Would adding “he must be married” augment passages which stress the character and heart attitude of an elder?

    These are the kinds of things that I key in on naturally, I guess – I’m not trying to be difficult… I just want to get at what any given passage means, thereby enabling me, at least, to know what I’m reading and how it can apply to me.

  44. bon82 says:

    Oh, any of it. Married, not divorced, male … if it’s a “this is a good way to do it” instead of a “this is the only way to do it”, then the principles, not the details, are important.

    A good illustration of this example I heard once:
    You are a missionary in Africa. The chief of the tribe you work with has multiple wives. The whole tribe believes. Both because of his social standing and his faith, the tribal chief is the obvious choice for an elder, but he has three wives. Do you:

    a) choose someone else, who may not be the right person (your choices may be very limited if most of the tribe is polygamous)
    b) tell him to divorce his 2nd and third wives
    c) let him be an elder anyway

    If you take it as “this is the only way to do it”, you must bypass the spirit of the law to the letter, and “A” is the only choice.

  45. bon82 says:

    Sorry, that was Ben, not Bonnie.

  46. Lee says:

    Well, what does it actually say? That’s what I’m trying to get at – and I don’t quite see an answer. I guess I’m done.

  47. Lee says:

    Back to the slavery issue – I just found out that “kidnappers” in 1 Tim 1:10 (amid the list of things “contrary to sound doctrine”) is talking about slave traders. The word is andrapodistes.

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