Kelly Edmiston on Biblical Criticism and Women in Ministry

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Kelly Edmiston is the Youth Pastor at the Vineyard Church of Sugar Land/Stafford. She has spent the last thirteen years in ministry to students and families in domestic and international contexts. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

I have taught many undergraduate bible courses over the past couple of years. The feedback that I hear the most from students is, “I have never read the bible this way before.” What do they mean by this? In most college bible courses, even at the undergraduate level, the intention is to offer students a historical/critical approach to studying and reading the bible. The goal is to expose students to the very beginning stages of what theologians refer to as “biblical criticism,” or using methods like history to examine the text.

Here is a simple and generic definition of biblical criticism. It is learning to “look behind the scriptures” to discover the historical background, authors, sources and literary characteristics of it. Biblical criticism also expands itself to establish the original words of the scripture (which is beyond the scope of typical undergraduate bible courses).

Think about sitting down to watch your favorite TV show, either on Hulu, Netflix, or on live TV (if anyone does that anymore). Before you watch the TV episode, you watch the “flashbacks” from the previous episodes and hopefully receive enough information from the entire season to have a good idea of what is about to take place in the current episode. In others words, you take in the background information before you watch the show. If you watch a random episode in the middle of the season, of a TV show that you have never seen before, and without any of the background knowledge, you would likely be very confused.

This is what it is like to read the bible without any knowledge of biblical criticism. Reading the bible with no knowledge of its history, authorship, culture, sources or literary characteristics will give you a very limited understanding of the bible. Without any sort of biblical criticism, you will have a limited perspective on what you are reading. And there will be lots of things you miss.

This process of learning to think critically about scripture can be disorienting for some and outright offensive to others. But without it, we can get into some really deep trouble when it comes to interpreting the bible. Biblical criticism is an important piece in the conversation around many issues of interpretation, including women in ministry/leadership.

For example, what if we used biblical criticism as we read 1 Timothy 2:11-12:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

If we were to read this passage with some understanding of biblical criticism we would see this:

(All of this information is drawing on Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet as a reference)

  • Paul wrote to Timothy about Ephesus.
  • In Ephesus (and throughout the Roman Empire) there was a sexual revolution occurring in which a cultural phenomenon, which is called “The New Roman Woman,” was arising wherein women were sexually adventurous.
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Source: Christianity Today