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scott gray


you said, "so how does one decide which practices and teachings numbered above remain valid, and which do not?"

a friend of mine got me a copy of 'teach like your hair is on fire' by rafe esquith, and he uses kohlberg's development model in his class of fifth graders. so one answer to your question is, authority goes to those passages, or 'voices' of scripture if you will, that validate your moral motivation at the particular kohlberg level you find yourself living, and loving, and having your being. and because there are so many voices in scripture, you can easily(!) find those passages that support one's own motivation for moral behavior.



Robert Holmstedt


"Plain sense" gets thrown around too much without definition. What's yours?




That's interesting. Kohlberg's development model is unfamiliar to me. People's moral behavior and moral judgments, I think, have complex roots. Furthermore, anthropology teaches us that taboo systems, taxonomies, cognitive maps of the world, and eschatologies, often shaped by unreasonable paranoia, contribute to the process of moral reasoning in decisive ways.


If you have a coherent definition of "plain sense" that has a chance of clarifying the issues, let's have it. I'm not sure I do, but I hope the sense I give to the expression in context is clear enough.

I have reservations with a common definition of plain sense. For example, the author of the epistle of James exhorts his addressees to anoint the sick with oil in the Lord's name: I'm happy to describe that as the plain sense of a part of the letter. It's an easy example.

However, as soon as one says that the epistle of James exhorts US to anoint the sick with oil, we are already beyond its plain sense. I would call that the canonical sense of the text, which quite legitimately might take another form: the text exhorts us to pray for the sick (with anointing seen as a non-essential).

In the same way, the command "to greet the brethren with a kiss" may be understood canonically, and usually is, to exhort us to greet each other with affection (with kissing as a non-essential).

(BTW, in my tradition we continue to anoint the sick with oil, though it is not considered a necessary element in the ministry of healing. So I am not against applying the plain sense of a passage "without change" to a changed situation.)

In short, I would carefully distinguish the plain sense of a passage from other senses the passage undoubtedly has. But I bet you I'm overlooking problems, and you are welcome to point them out.

Mike Aubrey

I don't care for "plain sense" arguments either. Appeals to the plain sense of scripture tend to either ignore or deny that what was the plain sense of a text for the original audience is not necessarily applicable to us today.

Appeals to the plain sense of scripture tend to forget that when it comes to Paul's letters, we are literally reading other people's mail. And thus any commands in Paul's letters do not directly map to the modern day. If we are going to describe our faith as being a faith grounded in history, we must take that history seriously when interpreting historical and contextual texts such as Paul's letters.

Robert Holmstedt


My definition will likely not clarify anything in terms of the passages or issues at hand. All I can add is my own use of the concept. Growing up Lutheran, we always heard about the "plain sense" or the "simple meaning" of Scripture, but it was used as "the easiest reading" rather than a contextually plausible one. It wasn't until I went off to college and read quite a bit about dear M.L. himself, as well as most of his non-commentary writings, that I recognized Luther's own use of the concept: he interpreted Scripture will all the tools available to him.

Thus, the plain sense of Scripture, as I think Luther used it and as I like to use it, is the one that we arrive at after employing every appropriate historical, cultural, literary, and linguistic filter at our disposal.

In that light, your examples of holy kissing, foot-washing, etc. are irrelevant since you've haven't actually done any interpretation of the texts (or, at least you haven't finished the job of reaching a plain sense).

Without taking the time to trot out good examples of what I mean, I'll simply say that I do take the "comp" position to pass my tests for the plain sense. But since I don't expect to convince anyone even if I did flesh out an argument, I'll leave it at that.

Anyway, enough from me.


Wayne Leman

John wrote:

I don’t agree that its compatibility with scripture is the strongest argument in favor of complementarianism.

And I agree with you, John. It seems that so very often I am not able to communicate clearly enough what I actually am intending to mean in my posts. (Of course, that give you good fuel for blog posts, but I find it very frustrating not to communicate adequately.) I have just revised my post to make it clearer that I was not presenting "the strongest argument in favor of complementarianism," but, rather, was trying to present what the complementarians I grew up with consider the strongest argument in favor of complementarianism.



I'm sympathetic to the direction of your argument, and find the post you put up on your blog in response to Wayne's and this one well-written.

Still, I think that when an author, ancient or modern, reaches historically conditioned, context-specific conclusions, said author often does so by means of arguments thought by him or her to settle the question by appeal to truths regarded as timeless - at the time!

That's the trouble: the truths presented as timeless in the New Testament - God is love, in God there is no darkness at all, the man is the head of the woman, woman is saved through childbearing - are, properly understood, timelessly true - at least that's what I think. But the specific application to which they are put in particular passages (like 1 Cor 11 and 1 Tim 2) is time-sensitive.

I don't think it can be otherwise. Then or now. The same applies to whatever application is made of other timeless truths such as "there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female," "in the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on your handmaidens, and they will prophesy," etc.



I'm not sure how we differ. The contextually plausible meaning of many, many passages is indisputable, for example, "greet with a holy kiss," or "anoint the sick with oil in the name of the Lord," or "in every place of worship ... I do not let women teach men or have authority over them" (NLT 1 Tim 2:8-11).

What I'm saying is that even when the contextually plausible meaning is not in doubt, it remains to figure out what to do with it in our context.

In other words, how are particular passages to be read in light of the entire biblical witness and in relation to a regula fidei (a creed) the elements of which are themselves derived from scripture?

If you are claiming that complementarianism coheres with a plain-sense reading in the sense of a contextually plausible construal of the contents of scripture, I would one up you and say, patriarchalism coheres even better (see my Carolyn Osiek posts).

But I think we both agree that the contextually plausible versions of patriarchy Moses and Paul supported in their day are not necessarily normative in our context.



I guess I tipped your hand in a particular direction whereas you wish to be like a referee who says, "these are my observations, you decide."

Like many others who are trained in biblical studies and remain confessional believers, I make a distinction between a text's contextually plausible meaning - its plain sense *in one sense* - and the meaning the same text may be taken to have for and in our context, in light of the entire biblical witness, a canon within a canon (a regula fidei), other faithful traditions, and things we think experience has taught us by the grace of God.

Personally, I do not think it speaks well of an exegete if the above distinction is overlooked. Everything is at stake when the distinction is made, but it cannot be otherwise. There is no shortcut.

I also do not think it speaks well of an exegete if the indisputable contextually plausible meaning of a given passage - for example, "in every place of worship ... I do not let women teach men or have authority over them" (NLT 1 Tim 2:8-11) - is not admitted.

I think your post as I originally understood it, in which you were willing to grant that the plain sense of a passage like 1 Tim 2:8-11 is indisputable and complementarian in content - or at least that it must be granted as reasonable that many think it so (something a large number of comps and egals agree on, but develop in opposing ways) - advanced the discussion.

Perhaps in fact that remains a fair description of your position. Perhaps you are willing to concede the plausibility of a complementarian reading of a passage like 1 Tim 2:8-11.

On the other hand, you seem not rule out the legitimacy of an egalitarian position which understands this text to be time- and context-specific on the basis of other texts and on the basis of the premise that a letter like 1 Timothy was not meant in the first place to provide a set of rules about pulpit supply valid for every imaginable cultural context until Jesus returns.

It's a complex position I happen to be comfortable with. Perhaps you are as well.

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