You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2011.

January 1 is the traditional Christian commemoration of the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Anglican churches which use the Book of Common Prayer still remember that feast. The Catholic Church changed the name and focus of January 1 some years ago to the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, which used to be a holy day of obligation full stop.  However, depending on what day of the week it falls, a Catholic diocese can abrogate (waive) it as such. Certain countries waive the requirement to attend Mass; others do not.

Personally, I prefer the Feast of the Circumcision as it demonstrates that Mary and Joseph did not think they — or Jesus — were above obeying Jewish law.

If you would like to read more about this feast and see a stained glass depiction of it, click on my 2010 New Year’s Day post.

May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers — especially my subscribers — a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2012!

Although somewhat pessimistic — or ‘realistic’, as I prefer to think of it — I see a glimmer of hope on the horizon for Western countries.

Early in December Britain’s National Centre for Social Research released its latest findings in their British Social Attitudes Survey.  The survey shows that more of us are moving away from communitarianism and collectivism.

The Telegraph provides a few highlights (emphases mine):

More than half of Britons believe unemployment benefits are too high and that they discouraged those out of work from finding new jobs, research has suggested.

I believe the current allowance is approximately £60 a week, which is just enough for modest weekly grocery shopping and incidentals. Remember that working people pay into this fund in case they are made redundant. However, long-term unemployed benefits are sometimes a different story. That said, the media should try not to conflate the two.

And there is more:

Support for rising taxes to fund public services has also weakened as has opposition to private health and schooling, the report found …

Britons are increasingly looking to themselves for solutions to social problems rather than the Government, it found.

Seventy five per cent of those questioned agreed the income gap between rich and poor was too large yet only just over a third (35 per cent) believed ministers should take steps to redistribute wealth.

It also revealed that although people see child poverty as an issue the Government must tackle, 63 per cent of the 3,297 people questioned believed parents who “don’t want to work” were a reason why some children lived in poverty.

Naturally, the National Centre for Social Research is disappointed by the findings. Meanwhile, I’m smiling — finally, we’re beginning to regain some sanity as a nation!

Penny Young, the Centre’s Chief Executive is not happy:

In a time of economic austerity and social unrest, the big question coming out of this year’s report is whether we really are in it together, or just in it for ourselves?

No, Ms Young, we are trying to repair the damage done by collectivist policies, most notably those of Labour over the past 13 years.

People need to start taking care of themselves and their families again. It’s the only way we can heal  our nation.

The study showed that … there was not much evidence of common interest, with almost half (45 per cent) opposing new housing, particularly in areas where it was most needed.

Despite widespread acknowledgement of housing shortages, opposition was highest where the problem was most acute, with more than half (58 per cent) against it in outer London and 50 per cent opposing new development in the South East.

Is it any wonder? We are inundated by all and sundry stretching our public resources — education, health and water — to the limit.

Also increasingly unpopular are environmental taxes — another cause for rejoicing:

The number of people prepared to pay much higher prices to safeguard the environment has fallen to just over a quarter (26 pre cent), compared to 43 per cent in 2000.

So too has the proportion willing to pay much higher taxes to protect the environment, from 31 p[er] cent to 22 p[er] cent.

Thank you, people of Great Britain!

Telegraph columnist Janet Daley analysed what all this means:

Much of the commentary on these rather startling figures has centred on the change in economic circumstances: when people are affluent and believe that their financial future is secure, they tend to be more relaxed about tax rises (and perhaps more indulgent of spendthrift government). Now they are facing hardship and have become, as the Left would believe, “meaner” and more reluctant to part with a high proportion of their earnings.

I do not believe this to be the explanation – or, at least not the whole explanation. What has influenced this change of public mood at least as much is that the theory of public spending as the cure for all social evils has been tested to destruction (thank you Gordon Brown) and been exposed as not only fraudulent but pernicious. Government spending of the most lavish kind has not significantly improved public services, and enforced re-distribution of wealth has resulted in welfare dependency and moral decline. That is what we know now – and what we did not know back in the day when those public opinion polls that so impressed the Tories were being done.

This debate goes on in Western countries all the time: to spend or not to spend ‘for the greater common good’.  From what I read on French fora, the opinion is pretty much split 50-50. A number of French socio-political commentators say that their nation is wed to Socialism in one way or another.  The French people can’t imagine living without it.  I’m not so sure; that, too, could well begin to change before next year’s presidential elections.

A number of Americans are still unhappy about their election results from 2008.  2012 gives them another opportunity to vote in better legislators and, perhaps, a new President.

If we get down and depressed, we can study history and recall the many cyclical swings and roundabouts.  Nothing lasts forever.

The time between Christmas and Twelfth Night is a good time to visit your butcher or a quality meat counter to buy a brace of pheasant.  ‘Holiday’ meat and game will be in abundance.

The main complaint about pheasant is that it is ‘dry’ or ‘boring’. Far from it. Below is my recipe for roast pheasant, which is moist and tasty every time.

This goes well with creamed cabbage and bacon.  Roast or mashed potatoes are a great carb accompaniment.

Churchmouse’s Roast Pheasant

(A brace — a cock and a hen — will serve six to eight people.)

(Prep time: 15 min. Cooking time: 45 min. to 1 hour at 180° C, 350° F)


For the pheasant:

2 pheasants at room temperature (remove from refrigerator an hour beforehand)

10 – 12 slices bacon or pancetta

1 tbsp of mixed herbs (e.g. thyme, marjoram, sage)

1 tbsp crushed garlic

1 tbsp butter

Salt, pepper to season

For the gravy:

3/4 c. meat or vegetable stock

1/4 c. Port, Marsala or red wine

Sprig of thyme, sage or rosemary

1 tbsp gravy granules/thickening or 2 tsp beurre manié (flour incorporated into butter — 50-50 for this)


1/ Grease the bottom of a roasting tin (with sides) and set aside.

2/ Remove bacon from packaging and divide into half: five or six slices per pheasant.

3/ Separate the slices and carefully reassemble with the top of one slice touching the bottom of the other. This will enable you to get an even protective layer of fat on the pheasant.

4/ On each set of bacon slices spread 1/2 tbsp. of crushed garlic, then sprinkle 1/2 tbsp of the herbs and pepper on top.

5/ Remove pheasants from packaging and dry with kitchen towel, if necessary.  Rub each with 1/2 tbsp. of butter, especially the legs.

6/ Place one pheasant breastbone down in the centre of one set of prepared bacon slices. Lift one side of the bacon slices and gently press around one side of the pheasant. Repeat with the other side and turn upward so the breastbone is facing you. Almost all the pheasant should be covered in bacon.  Do the same with the second pheasant.

7/ Place pheasants right side up in prepared roasting tin.  Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Meat is done when juices run clear. Test by gently inserting a knife between the leg and the carcass.

8/ When done, remove the pheasants to rest on a cutting board or carving tray.

9/ Drain some — not all — of the fat from the roasting tin and place on medium heat. You’ll need some of the fat in the gravy to add the right amount of succulence to the meat. Add the first three gravy ingredients and bring to the boil.

10/ Once gravy base is boiling, add the gravy granules or the beurre manié. Stir until dissolved. Allow to thicken.  This will be a jus, a light sauce with body.

11/ Meanwhile, have a large pot nearby so that you can place the bones in it and make stock.

12/ Carve the meat by placing the bacon on the side then start with the legs. Cut each from the carcass. There are several fine tendons in each leg which should be removed. To do this, stand the leg up as you hold onto the (small) end and gently push a medium-sized knife down the leg bone. This will loosen the meat from the bones.  Place leg bones in the stock pot.

13/ Now carve the breast into thin slices. Then get as much of the other meat off as possible. On the underside of the carcass are the eyes — or ‘oysters’ — one on each side located in the middle. These are succulent bits of meat, about a teaspoonful in size.  After carving, place carcass in stock pot.

14/ Serve a slice or two of bacon along with the meat. Serve gravy separately or spoon onto the meat, avoiding the bacon.

15/ Fill stock pot with water to cover the bones and carcass, add a splash of Port or red wine, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper. Turn off heat and leave to stand overnight or for several hours. If your kitchen is relatively cool — 18C or 65 F — it should be fine.  Strain and decant into a clean glass or plastic bottle with cap.  Refrigerate. Stock should last for a week or two and can be used as a base for gravies, soups or in place of water when cooking vegetables.

(Photo credit: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod)

Christopher Hitchens, the world-famous atheist, left this mortal coil on Thursday, December 15, 2011.

Back in March, I wrote about his experimental DNA-oriented treatment, which BioLogos founder Dr Francis Collins was administering.

Collins was also an atheist until his 20s, at which time he became a Christian. My post has more details about the treatment and Hitchens’ views on it.

On discovering that Some Christians will draw the conclusion that we should not be using DNA-based medical treatments. Collins, however, believes that DNA is ‘the language of God’ and wrote a book by the same title which explores this theme in more detail.

Of greater interest — and importance — is whether former atheist Collins had more of a therapeutic effect on Hitchens’ unbelief. One day we’ll find out.

Bacon improves the taste of everything, including cabbage, which is often an unpopular vegetable.

However, this recipe is guaranteed to not give your kitchen a sulphurous odour. Furthermore, even people who don’t care for cabbage will enjoy this.

Churchmouse’s creamed cabbage with bacon

(6 to 8 servings; prep time: 10 minutes, cooking time: 20 – 25 minutes)


1 green or white cabbage (I use the sweetheart or pointed variety)

65g (2 oz.) cubed bacon or pancetta

1/4 cup stock or water for cooking

1/2 tbsp butter

1/2 tbsp flour

3 tbsp heavy cream or 2 tbsp crème fraîche


1/ Place bacon in the pan in which you will cook the cabbage.  Cook the bacon over medium heat for 10 minutes. Putting the lid on will help it cook faster.

2/ Meanwhile, cut the cabbage. If it’s a smaller one, like the pointed/sweetheart variety, you can cut it in half and then in half again so that you end up with quarters.

3/ Slice each quarter as thinly or thickly as you like. I normally cut mine into 1 cm (1/2″) slices.

4/ Remove the pan with the bacon from the heat, add the cabbage and stir to better mix the bacon through. Add stock or water halfway up the cabbage slices. They do not need to be entirely covered as long as you put a lid on the pan.

5/ Return pan to heat and cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

6/ When cabbage is cooked, drain carefully or strain.

7/ Return cabbage and bacon to the heat and create a small space in the pan to make a roux for the cream sauce. If you’re hesitant about doing this, you can always empty the cabbage and bacon into a bowl and cover whilst you make the sauce.

8/ Add butter and flour to the pan and stir until bubbly. Season with a little salt and some pepper.

9/ Add the cream or crème fraîche and stir well.  Sauce will thicken. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

10/ Add the cabbage and bacon back to the pan. The moisture from the strained cabbage will help thin the sauce. Stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.  Serve.

(Photo credit: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod)

Trooper Thompson of Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights found a Firing Line episode from 1969 featuring the show’s host William F Buckley Jr and guest Noam Chomsky.

If your family is out shopping for bargains and you have an hour, this is well worth your time. I watched the entire programme, which I used to do quite regularly in the 1980s.

Firing Line ran on America’s PBS from 1966 to 1999.  Whilst a number of everyday conservatives living away from the East Coast dislike Buckley, he did much to advance the intellectual cause of conservatism from the 1950s onward with his magazine National Review.

Buckley’s death in 2008 was a sad day for me personally, as it signalled the end of an era.  National Review made its debut a few years before I was born and is still around today.  Prior to that, Buckley achieved fame with a best-selling book at the time, God and Man at Yale, in which he criticised his alma mater for abandoning its founding principles.

God blessed Buckley with a charmed life, an abiding faith, a sharp intellect and an extraordinary use of the English language, which you will see on display in these YouTube segments.

As I wrote here in 2009 about his family:

If you want to get a good idea of who the Buckleys were, read Bob Colacello‘s article in the January 2009 edition of Vanity Fair

Bill Buckley was one of the greatest Catholics of the 20th century.

He attended Latin Mass locally every Sunday and took his Catholic servants along as well as any houseguests. His late wife Pat, by the way, was a lifelong Anglican born and raised in Canada.

You can read and view more photographs in a New York Times article which Buckley’s son Christopher wrote.

What follows are the segments from the 1969 debate between Buckley and Noam Chomsky. This was a momentous year for Firing Line as it won an Emmy Award, the Vietnam War was raging, students were deeply unhappy with the war and Richard M Nixon began his first term as Presidency.

You will also discover how much of the art of debate we have lost in the West. Buckley invited people on who disagreed with him, yet he lost his cool only once and that was with Gore Vidal in 1968.

I particularly appreciated the third through the fifth segments as the two men discuss Marxism in the 20th century and the independence of former British colonies in Africa.

Note that Chomsky admits that he is not interested in atrocities which the Viet Cong committed, only those for which America was responsible.

One wonders if any television channel today — including PBS — would show such a balanced discussion on such a variety of world issues.

Without further ado, here is another episode of Firing Line. (Here is another one I featured with Buckley and Hugh Hefner – Part 1 and Part 2.) And, yes, as I recall, the doorbell sound signalled the end of each segment in the show for a time:

I hope that all my readers had a very happy Christmas Day! Here in Britain, we are looking forward to Boxing Day.

Today’s painting was completed in 1622 and featured in one of my Christmas posts in 2010.  It is called Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.

Yesterday’s post warned against reading too much about politics and asylum into the Christmas story. Chances are that if you heard a sermon in mainline or Catholic churches on this holy day, it concerned a call for political action.

Today’s post looks at Luke’s telling of the Christmas story, which includes the detail of Mary and Joseph’s travel for census and the birth of Jesus Christ.  The ESV text is below, followed by Dr Craig S Keener’s explanation of those events.

Luke 2:1-14

The Birth of Jesus Christ

1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them inthe inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

 8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

This past autumn I featured Dr Craig S Keener’s introduction to hermeneutics, which readers can find on my Christianity / Apologetics page. One of these concerned the understanding of biblical background. What follows is example No. 10 from that post. Emphases mine below:

… A tax census instigated by the revered emperor Augustus here begins the narrative’s contrast between Caesar’s earthly pomp and Christ’s heavenly glory. Although Egyptian census records show that people had to return to their homes for a tax census, the “home” to which they returned was where they owned property, not simply where they were born (censuses registered persons according to property). Joseph thus must have still held property in Bethlehem. Betrothal provided most of the legal rights of marriage, but intercourse was forbidden; Joseph was courageous to take his pregnant betrothed with him, even if (as is quite possible) she was also a Bethlehemite who had to return to that town. Although tax laws in most of the Empire only required the head of a household to appear, the province of Syria (then including Judea) also taxed women. But Joseph may have simply wished to avoid leaving her alone this late in her pregnancy, especially if the circumstances of her pregnancy had deprived her of other friends.

The “swaddling clothes” were long cloth strips used to keep babies’ limbs straight so they could grow properly. Midwives normally assisted at birth; especially since this was Mary’s first child, it is likely (though not clear from the text) that a midwife would have been found to assist her. Jewish law permitted midwives to travel a long distance even on the Sabbath to assist in delivery.

By the early second century even pagans were widely aware of the tradition that Jesus was born in a cave used as a livestock shelter behind someone’s home. The manger was a feeding trough for animals; sometimes these may have been built into the floor. The traditional “inn” could as easily be translated “home” or “guest room,” and probably means that, since many of Joseph’s scattered family members had returned to the home at once, it was easier for Mary to bear in the vacant cave outside.

Many religious people and especially the social elite in this period generally despised shepherds as a low-class occupation; but God sees differently than people do. Pasturing of flocks at night indicates that this was a warmer season, not winter (when they would graze more in the day); December 25 was later adopted as Christmas only to supercede a pagan Roman festival scheduled at that time.

Pagans spoke of the “good news” of the emperor’s birthday, celebrated throughout the empire; they hailed the emperor as “Savior” and “Lord.” They used choirs in imperial temples to worship the emperor. They praised the current emperor, Augustus, for having inaugurated a worldwide “peace.” But the lowly manger distinguishes the true king from the Roman emperor; Jesus is the true Savior, Lord, bringer of universal peace

Therefore, it would appear that Luke’s intention here is to make a distinction between the temporal and the divine. The Gospel writer wishes to draw us away from the political towards the heavenly, despite the humble circumstances surrounding our Lord and Redeemer’s birth.

Is that not a more significant lesson to bear in mind than something resembling a left-wing editorial?

A very happy Christmas to all my readers!

Today’s painting is ‘The Nativity’ by Federico Barocci (Baroccio), who was born in the first half of the 16th century and died in 1612. He painted ‘The Nativity’ in 1597. I found this thanks to The Four Mass’keteers and featured it in my 2009 Boxing Day post.

At this time of year, a Christian is likely to hear a politically-oriented sermon about the Christmas story.

In previous years, many denominations — including the Catholic Church — have delivered messages about poverty and immigration based on New Testament texts.  This year is no different. In Britain, a religious think tank, Theos, has put forward the same notion. Dr Stephen Holmes says:

The birth of Jesus was a political event, through and through.

Our celebration of Christmas should therefore be political also.

How fascinating. Today’s and tomorrow’s posts look at the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke’s perspectives with the help of Dr Craig S Keener’s hermeneutical work which I featured earlier this past autumn.

First, the text, Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV):

The Birth of Jesus Christ

 18Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall call his name Immanuel”

      (which means, God with us). 24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

This is what Dr Keener had to say about the text — which he looks at from a familial and marital  perspective (emphases in bold mine):

The text specifically says that Joseph was a “righteous” person (1:19). Before listing lessons, we need to provide some background. Given the average ages of marriage among first-century Jews, Joseph was probably less than twenty and Mary was probably younger, perhaps in her mid-teens. Joseph probably did not know Mary well; sources suggest that parents did not allow Galilean couples to spend much time together before their wedding night. Also, Jewish “betrothal” was as binding legally as a marriage, hence could be ended only by divorce or the death of one partner. If the woman were charged with unfaithfulness in a court, her father would have to return to the groom the brideprice he had paid; also the groom would keep any dowry the bride had brought or was bringing into the marriage. By divorcing her privately the groom would probably forfeit such financial remuneration.

The narrative implies first of all something about commitment: Joseph was righteous even though he planned to divorce Mary, because he thought she had been unfaithful, and unfaithfulness is a very serious offense. The text also teaches us about compassion: even though Joseph believed (wrongly) that Mary had been unfaithful to him, he planned to divorce her privately to minimize her shame, thereby forgoing any monetary repayment for her misdeed and any revenge. Here Joseph’s “righteousness” (1:19) includes compassion on others. The passage further emphasizes consecration: Joseph was willing to bear shame to obey God. Mary’s pregnancy would bring her shame, perhaps for the rest of her life. If Joseph married her, people would assume either that he got her pregnant or, less likely, that he was a moral weakling who refused to punish her properly; in either case, Joseph was embracing Mary’s long-term shame in obedience to God’s will. Finally, we learn about control. In their culture, everyone assumed that a man and woman alone together could not control themselves sexually. But in their obedience to God, Joseph and Mary remained celibate even once they were married until Jesus was born, to fulfill the Scripture which promised not only a virgin conception but a virgin birth (1:23, 25). There are other morals in this paragraph, too (for instance, about the importance of Scripture in 1:22-23), but these are the clearest from Joseph’s own life.

As much as I wish they wouldn’t, people are welcome to draw political conclusions from Jesus’s birth.

However, they would be better placed paying heed to Dr Keener’s interpretation concerning marriage, family and the themes of commitment, compassion, consecration and control — infinitely more meaningful and personal.

On a higher, scriptural level, note his mention of the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy of a virgin consecration and a virgin birth.

To many believers, the Christmas story demonstrates holy obedience to God in trying circumstances.

Tomorrow: The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel

Surprisingly, a number of professed Christians say that they do not know what or whom to pray for.

All one can assume is that they are fine within themselves and have no need to pray.

However, to those who are looking for special Christmas prayer ideas, may I offer the following special intentions:

For our servicemen abroad and at home, that God may preserve them and keep them safe. For those who have been released from service and find themselves homeless and at a loose end, may they find a roof over their heads as well as all His infinite mercy and grace.

For families who have lost a loved one, particularly in the past year — a spouse, a father, a sibling — may they find comfort during this time of happy family celebrations and a sense of reassurance in God’s love. May they not feel lonely or excluded.

For parents and children whom the State has separated, may they know God’s mercy in their affliction. May social workers, magistrates and family court judges see fit to reunite deserving families to bring them together as a loving, divinely-ordained unit of love.

For the homeless, many of whom have felt separated from loved ones and friends from an early age because of circumstances, may God enable charities to find a way to house them for longer than a fortnight between Christmas and Twelfth Night.

For those seeking work, may they find honest, suitable employment soon.

For employers, that they be godly stewards of men.

For our farmers, faithfully providing food for our shops, may they realise plentiful harvests and healthy, productive livestock.

For our heads of state as well as our regional and local governments, may they come to appreciate the will of God and do what is righteous and worthy of His name in a quiet, lawful and peaceful way.

For those who mock God, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that they may discover the meaning of truth in Holy Scripture which leads them to a renewal of life and a promise of salvation.

For our clergymen who view the Gospel message as an allegory or a metaphor for social justice, may they come to understand the true teachings of Jesus Christ.

For those who are alone on this day of rejoicing, may they have the comfort of the Light of the World and receive the hope which only He can give.

For those who have been victims of serious crime, may they experience a rapid healing and may they come to resume a sense of security.

For those who are trapped in serious sins of depravity — fornication, sexual deviance and substance abuse — may they come to know an understanding of the Gospel and the hope that the Christ Child brings, including His promise of eternal life.

For all of us who are aware of our innate sin and depravity — may we come to share in the joyous hope of salvation and eternal glory with Jesus Christ and God the Father.

For the world at large, that we may repent of our many and grievous sins, praying for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

For the faithful, that we find the fortitude to preach the Gospel and make followers of all men, wherever we are in the world.

O Lord, we thank you for sending us your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. Through your mercy, forgive us our sins, grant us Your divine mercy and keep us close to you through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, today and always. This we ask through the blessing of our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ, your only Son who lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.

This post concludes a three-part series on women, society and the Church based on New Testament letters.

Today’s entry continues with additional perspectives from Dr Philip B Payne of the Evangelical Free Church who is a New Testament specialist and seminary professor. Yesterday’s post examined hair and headcoverings.

Dr Payne has more insights into St Paul’s epistles and the controversies about how some Christians view women in relation to their husbands and whether they should be ordained. Emphases mine below.

Romans 5 and ‘federal headship’

From one of his blog posts featuring a Q & A, Payne warns:

beware of extrapolations that are not clearly taught in Romans 5. “Adam’s federal headship” is not a biblical expression. Neither “federal” nor “headship” are words that occur in the Bible. Although you wrote about “the discussion on headship in this context,” in fact, Romans 5 mentions nothing about the authority of Adam or of husbands, nor does it mention  “head,” or “headship.” It is about the universal implications (especially death) of Adam’s sin and the universal implications of Christ’s sacrificial death that satisfies the penalty for the sins of all and offers life to all who will accept Him. It is inappropriate to draw conclusions regarding a hierarchy of authority in marriage from a passage that is not about a hierarchy of authority or about marriage. This passage stresses the universality of the consequences of Adam’s sin for all people, women as well as men. It says nothing about the authority of men over women, whether in society, the church, or the home.

And in the comments writes:

In the case of the Trinity, there is a wealth of statements in the Bible that require or point to the idea that Christ is God and that the Spirit is God. In the case of “headship” there are only a few passages that use “head” in a way that, in English, imply headship, namely leadership. Man and Woman, One in Christ, pages 119-123, however, lays out a wealth of data demonstrating that this usage was not common to Greek. Pages 123-137 demonstrates that “source” is a well established meaning of “head” in Greek …

What I do not find in Gen 1-2 … is anything about “headship,” which in English refers to an authority structure in which the “head” has the authority to command obedience form the other person. Instead, I read of both man and woman together being made “in the image of God” and together “having dominion” over the other creatures. In Eph 5:23 Paul uses apposition to define “Christ head of the church” as “he savior of the body” …

In 1 Cor 7, Paul’s longest passage about marriage, he specifies exactly the same conditions, opportunities, rights, and obligations for the woman as for the man regarding twelve distinct issues about marriage (vv. 2, 3, 4, 5, 10–11, 12–13, 14, 15, 16, 28, 32 and 34a, and 33 and 34b). In each he addresses men and women as equals. His wording is symmetrically balanced to reinforce this equality. The strikingly egalitarian understanding of the dynamics of marital relations expressed in Paul’s symmetry throughout this passage is without parallel in the literature of the ancient world. It is all the more impressive because it is focused on the marriage relationship, a relationship that traditionalists regard as intrinsically hierarchical based on the “created order.” Against a cultural backdrop where men were viewed as possessing their wives, Paul states in 7:2, “let each woman have her own husband.” Against a cultural backdrop where women were viewed as owing sexual duty to their husbands, Paul states in 7:3, “Let the husband fulfill his marital duty to his wife.” It is hard to imagine how revolutionary it was for Paul to write in 7:4, “the husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does.” Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, page 131 writes, “Paul offers a paradigm-shattering vision of marriage as a relationship in which the partners are bonded together in submission to one another, each committed to meet the other’s needs” …

Gen 3 teaches the mutual responsibility of the woman (later named Eve after the fall) and the man for the fall. It teaches nothing about the “headship” of the man. It is especially precarious to speak of “Adam” as responsible to the exclusion of “Eve” since Eve was not named until after the fall and since the Hebrew word “adam” is applied in Gen 1 to both the man and the woman together. Paul, too, identifies the first woman falling into transgression (1 Tim 2:14). Eph 5 teaches mutual submission. In fact, the word “submit” does not even occur in Eph 5:22, but is dependent on “submitting to one another” in Eph 5:21. It is, therefore, misleading to speak of “headship” in either case as exclusively male. Both transgressed causing the fall, both are given dominion, and both are to submit to one another.

Women prophesying in public and in church

From this Q & A post on 1 Corinthians 14:34-38, Payne reminds us of Philip’s daughters in Acts who prophesied publicly:

Although it is not explicitly stated, several pieces of evidence suggest that the meeting place for both of these cases where Paul sought out the church in Caesarea was in Philip’s house.

Acts 18:22 states, “When he [Paul] had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.” In this instance, “the church” identified Paul’s audience, namely the believers in Caesarea who gathered to be with Paul at that time. Nothing in the context indicates that “the church” was a location. One cannot “greet” a location. One only “greets” people.

Acts 21:8-14 RSV states:

On the morrow we departed and came to Caesarea; and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. And he had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. While we were stayiing for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us he took Paul’s girdle and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this girdle and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there begged him not to go up to Jerusalem… And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “The will of the Lord be done.”

There is no indication in Acts 21:8-14 of a change in location from “the house of Philip the evangelist.” In particular, the reference to “a prophet Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us he took Paul’s girdle…” specifies “coming to us.” This constitutes evidence that Philip’s house is probably where Agabus came. “We [Paul and his companion(s), including Luke] and the people there” confirms that this location, presumably Philip’s house, was large enough to accommodate them all. Philip’s house was thus probably the location to which a traveler coming all the way from Judea went to find Paul, where a church meeting including Agabus’s prophecy and exhortation took place. The reference to Philip’s four daughters who prophesied coming right after “we entered the house of Philip the evangelist” shows that the house would have to be big enough for them all to live there. Since Agabus apparently prophesied in that house, it would be odd if Philip’s own daughters never prophesied there.

Since this was the place where Paul and his companion(s) went to greet the church in Caesarea and since it also were Agabus went to find Paul, it was, most likely, the regular meeting place of the church in Caesarea. Since both Acts 18 and 21 describe Paul going somewhere in Caesarea to meet believers, and since Acts 21 specifies the location as Philip’s house, it is more likely that Paul’s earlier visit to the church in Caesarea in Acts 18 was to Philip’s house than anywhere else.

At the very least, it would be precarious to assume that Philip’s house was not the meeting place where Paul greeted the church at Caesarea in Acts 18:22. Consequently, one should not assume a difference in location between “church” (Acts 18:22) and “house” (Acts 21:8). Both passages deal with a public meeting of the church in Caesarea

You ask whether the audience of prophesy may be only a handful. Theoretically, yes. Is such a small group what Paul has in mind in 1 Cor 11? He probably has in mind a typical church gathering in Corinth. We don’t know how big those were typically. Rom 16:1 refers to “the chuch of Cenchrea [the port of Corinth].” This shows that there were localized “churches” in Corinth. The churches in Corinth probably had recognized meeting places or homes where they would gather for worship, but they may have had worship in a variety of places. Could any of these have included worship of just a handful of people? There is no reason it could not. Is it likely that Paul had such a small group in mind when writing 1 Cor 11:2-16? Probably not.

Women and ordination

In a Q & A post comparing the pronouns in 1 Timothy 3 (addressing the question of who should be ordained) and 1 Timothy 5 on the role of widows, Payne explains:

I have to deal with the fact that the standard Greek texts of 1 Timothy 3:1–13 have no masculine pronouns because most  translations insert them into the text, and English readers incorrectly assume that there are corresponding masculine pronouns in the underlying Greek text, when there are not.

Furthermore, there is no dispute that 1 Tim 5:3-16 is dealing specifically with women. Widows are repeatedly identified as the subject (5:3, 4, 5, 9, 16). 5:3 has a feminine article. 5:5 has a feminine participle, which, like the following feminine participles, identifies the subject as female. 5:6 has a feminine article and two feminine participles. 5:9 has a feminine participle that makes it unambiguous that “one-man woman” (ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή) specifically describes a woman. 5:10 has a feminine participle. The comparative adjective in 5:11 is feminine. 5:12 has a feminine participle. 5:13 has two feminine participles. 5:14 has a pronominal adjective identifying the subject to be younger women. 5:16 has a feminine pronoun and is part of this section on widows, so it is not correct to say that there are no feminine pronouns in this passage discussing the role of widows. 5:16 also has a feminine article with “widows.” Each of these factors and the standard use of χήρα to identify female widows [“χήρα, -ας, ἡ fem. of χῆρος = bereft (of one’s spouse)” BAG 889] make it clear that Paul is not talking about men who have lost their wives as widows

The subject of 1 Tim 5:9 is the feminine χήρα, which, apparently without exception in Greek literature refers only to women. Furthermore, 5:9 has a feminine participle that makes it unambiguous that the one-man woman specifically describes a woman. There is no corresponding element in the context of 1 Tim 3:2 that makes it unambiguous that “one-woman man” (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα) specifically describes a man.  1 Tim 3:1 specifically states that “whoever [τις, the same word used of widows in 1 Tim 5:4] desires the office of overseer desires a good work.” Paul clearly intends this to encourage people to desire this good work. Is it likely Paul would identify the subject as “whoever” and encourage them to desire this good work if for women it was forbidden fruit?

Two of the most prominent complementarians acknowledge this phrase does not clearly exclude women. Douglas Moo acknowledges that this phrase need not exclude “unmarried men or females from the office … it would be going too far to argue that the phrase clearly excludes women….” Douglas J. Moo, “The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11–15: A Rejoinder,” TJ 2 NS (1981): 198–222, 211. Thomas Schreiner acknowledges, “The requirements for elders in 1 Tim 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9, including the statement that they are to be one-woman men, does not necessarily in and of itself preclude women from serving as elders….” Thomas R. Schreiner’s “Philip Payne on Familiar Ground: A Review of Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.” JBMW (Spring 2010): 33–46, 35.

The closest English equivalent to “one-woman man” is “monogamous,” and it applies to both men and women. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines monogamy on p. 920, “1. the practice or state of being married to only one person at a time 2. [Rare] the practice of marrying only once during life 3. Zool. the practice of having only one mate—monogamist n. —monogamous… adj.”

In any event, there is a general consensus that 1 Tim 3:2 is an exclusionary phrase. It excludes from the office of overseer those who are not monogamous (and probably those who are not living in sexual fidelity). It is generally agreed that it is not a requirement that all overseers must be married. Otherwise Paul and Christ could not be overseers, and Christ is the only person named in the NT as an overseer (ἐπίσκοπος). Indeed, if being a “one-woman man” is a requirement rather than an exclusion, virtually the entire Catholic priesthood would be excluded. If this were an exclusion, even if it were to be proven to be exclusively male in reference, it would not exclude women from being overseers. It would simply exclude men who are not “one-women men” from being overseers.

Matt — my reader who posed this question a few weeks ago — I hope this goes some way towards answering your question. It certainly presents another angle from a linguistics perspective.

It would have been good if these arguments — not necessarily from Payne, Moo or Schreiner themselves — had come out around 25 or 30 years ago when women’s ordination was a hot topic. Most people — myself included — have a difficult time with it, because until the late 20th century, only sects had women preachers. Established churches all over the world — many of them to the present day — ordained men only. Until this issue is clarified once and for all citing Scripture in a learned way, many faithful will be suspicious of women’s ordination and their rise through the ranks to the episcopacy.  This subject also divides clergy, and it is not just a matter for English-speaking countries.

Something more for readers to discuss over Christmas dinner!

End of series

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