Quiverfull and Etic Interpretation

As I have been studying and writing, I have come to the conclusion that Wittgenstein was right about language. Now, I don’t agree with his relativism, as I believe that we are called to use language in a the way in which God has told us in his word. However, I have found that much of evangelical exegesis boils down to reductionistic oversimplification that cannot be reconciled with the simple ideas of language games as understood in Wittgenstein.

I remember when I took Advanced Hebrew Grammar that one of the things that interested me is something known as Textlinguistics. Textlinguistics is a field of linguistics that deals, not with what the author can do, but with what the author actually does. In other words, you seek to see how the text is divided up on the macro level, and how the author tends to use a certain preposition, verb, etc. in the passage. What it exposed is that there is meaning beyond the sentence level. As I had mentioned before, this is one thing that most popular level evangelical exegesis ignores. However, when I took my Exegesis of Proverbs class with Dr. VanGemeren, I found that he was coming up with ideas of using these principles on the whole Hebrew Bible. In other words, you begin to look at patterns of language as they develop throughout the Pentateuch, and are then expounded in the historical, wisdom, and prophetic books. Now, all of this must be tempered with the micro level, and that is why it helps in dealing with this kind of intertextuality, to find different collocations of words. In other words, if the two passages you are trying to connect share 97% of the same vocabulary, there is probably a good chance that the two passages are related. However, if they only share one word, then it is harder to prove that they are related. You have to argue that there are sufficient synonyms in the passage, and that the sense of these words is the same as the sense you find in the text you are examining.

Now, all of this is to understand, not just the meanings of the individual words, but the ideas behind these meanings. Too often when we read the Hebrew Bible we read it in what is called an “etic” fashion. By using the procedures outlined above, we are able to understand the language of the Hebrew Bible on its own terms, with its own backgrounds, connotations, and senses. This is called “emic” interpretation of language. Consider this example. Let us say we are dealing with a Frenchman who is wearing a white outfit, and is walking around a hospital. In this context, you ask the man what he is doing at the hospital, and he says to you “I have the cockroach” in French. Now, a person who doesn’t have more than a rudimentary knowledge of French will interpret this expression “I have the cockroach” to mean that he is the exterminator who has come to take care of the cockroach problem in the hospital. However, if you know the background of this French expression you will know that the phrase “I have the cockroach” is an expression which has the meaning of “I am depressed.” Hence, you know that this man is a mental patient being treated for clinical depression. The interpretation that takes “I have the cockroach” to mean, “This man is the exterminator” is called an “etic” interpretation, because it is looking into the language from the outside and interpreting. The interpretation that correctly understands this phrase as meaning, “This man is depressed” is an “emic” interpretation.

When we interpret a text emically, we are seeking to understand a text in the context of its own language game. Wittgenstein, of course, argued that meaning in language is actually dependent upon the linguistic community which produces the language. Each community develops its own language “game” that it plays. Thus, the meaning of language cannot be divorced from its linguistic community. The Biblical authors are no different.

Now, as I have interacted with Quiverfull advocates online, and read their literature, I have been concerned about the fact that much of their literature partakes of just these kinds of mistakes. Quiverfull advocates are very well read in philosophy, theology, history, and classics. Also, if you go to many of their websites, the pictures that they post are clearly pictures of old American and colonial American times. In fact, many people in the Quiverfull movement are well read in the Puritans. All of these studies are all well and good, but we need to remember, as I pointed out above, that a text needs to be understood in the light of its own language game. This is where the danger comes in.

You see, much of Quiverfull defines itself as being the negation of Feminism [I would argue that it is an overreaction to feminism]. However, as all of the things I mentioned in the above paragraph seem to indicate, it seems that Quiverfull advocates are going back to pre-modern American culture as the language game in terms of which they are understanding the Bible. This is really where the danger lies. One must make sure that the language the patterns of thought we are using to understand the Bible come from the Bible itself. Until the Quiverfull advocate is challenged to defend his language game against the language game of the Bible, he will just simply be able to retreat to his language game, and then say, “You can’t touch me.”

A good example of this is when a Quiverfull advocate is told that they are a “legalist.” I have seen more responses to this claim that have illustrated, for me anyway, the truth of what I have said above. For example, Stacy McDonald has written “Legalist Hunters” and the Hypocrisy that Empowers Them, and in it she writes:

While I agree that legalism is a dangerous problem in the Church, most of the complaints I hear of late have more to do with reactionism than they do true legalism. Entire blogs are set up “warning” other Christians how they may spot legalistic churches or groups, or even how to judge whether or not a friend is a legalist. Most of their warnings aren’t based on Scripture or reason; most of their complaints are based upon their personal testimonies or experiences from when they, themselves, were legalists.

To me, that’s the most disturbing part. Since when are we called to superimpose our own past sins or judgmental attitudes on others? If you were a legalist at some point in your life, and thought that anyone who (insert extra-biblical teaching here) was sinning, then own your own sin; but, don’t get it in your head that all your brothers and sisters in Christ who seem to “look like you did” on the outside have the same sinful mindset on the inside!

Now, why did Stacy McDonald react in the way that she did? Simple, because she has a different language game in terms of which she looks at scripture. You see, just assuming certain standards as legalistic, and throwing it out there will not work, because they interpret this in the context of their own understanding of the language game of the Bible. In fact, if you look at the second paragraph, she has every right to argue that the standards that you are using to call her a legalist are merely a psychoanalysis of yourself imposed upon others. That is why you have to attack the language game that they are using to define these terms before you can go after Quiverfull itself.

In fact, even worse is that many Quiverfull advocates are starting to throw around the term “antinomianism.” Why not? If you don’t establish, from the text of scripture, that these ideas are foreign to the language game of the Bible, then why can they not say that you are not being obedient to the law of God? The reason is because you haven’t established the unbiblical nature of the language game that Quiverfull advocates are using. Whether one is being a legalist or an antinomian must be defined according to how the scripture uses its language. When the difference between the two is blurred, you can get out of the charge of legalism by simply calling the other person an antinomian. That is why we must demonstrate the meaning of these by understanding the way in which scripture presents them. Not only that, we must understand all of the language of scripture in its own immediate grammar, structure, syntax, context, and its own conception of reality. However, when we do this, we can see that Quiverfull is extremely reductionistic.

One of the weaknesses of this movement is that it seeks to establish their views from historical perspective. Now, John Noonan has written a refutation of their views from history, showing how it actually developed from Stoic philosophy, but still a Biblical exegesis that is rooted in history is in danger of committing the fallacy of anachronism. For example, why is it that Quiverfull advocates can look at 1 Timothy 5:14, and see the words “get married, bear children, and keep house” and automatically associate that with the woman’s role during the time of the Puritans, especially when the context indicates we are dealing with whether or not widows should be put on a list [v.9-11], and Paul says that the list should not be for younger widows, since they might want to remarry, and thus, would go back on their pledge to Christ [v.11-12] , and may also become idol, and a busybody [v.13]? You can look at that and say that Paul is clearly saying in verse 14 that he wants younger widows to be able to marry if they so desire, and thus is commanding Timothy to not put them on the list, by comparing verse 14 with verses 11-12, but it doesn’t matter. The reason is because this interpretation is not flowing from the context of a list of widows; it is being anachronistically read into the text from the cultural ideas of the Puritans. When you are thinking in terms of that culture, the first thing that comes to your mind when “get married,” “bear children,” and “keep house” are mentioned is the role of a female as homemaker, even though that is not what Paul is addressing in his context.

Now, to compensate for that, what has to be done is to simplify the material I presented at the beginning of this section. Often, the exegesis of Quiverfull advocates becomes an A=B enterprise. That is, they present a referential view of language. However, when you do that, you cut off any hope of understanding the text emically, as any linguist will be able to tell you. For example, I was talking to one Quiverfull advocate, and he brought up the idea of children as a blessing, and thus, we should receive “as many children as the Lord is willing to give us.” When this happens, you have to challenge this conception of a blessing. It is, again, not hard to do as scholars of the wisdom literature recognize that why the enjoyment of blessings is clearly part of the wisdom literature, so is liminality or moderation. I respond to this by going to Proverbs 25:16:

Proverbs 25:16 Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, That you not have it in excess and vomit it.

This text very clearly says that we are to be careful how much we take of God’s blessings, so that we don’t have enough of it, and vomit it financially, healthwise, etc. The rest of this passage goes on to apply this to friendship [v.17], honey again [v.27], knowledge [v.27], and moderation in general [v.28]. I like using this text because verse 28 uses battle imagery just like Psalm 127. In Psalm 127, blessings are like arrows in the hand of a warrior, and Quiverfull advocates anyway, will take verse 28 to be referring to culture wars, and victory in culture wars [which is entirely questionable]. However, Proverbs 25:28 says that those who have an excess in blessings are like a city broken in without walls! So, which is true? Are you victorious, or are you a city broken in without walls? The answer is, “yes.” The Biblical conception of a blessing is that it is good to have them, and God gives many good gifts to his children, and we also must be careful how much we take, lest we have enough of it, and vomit it up.

I also had a friend of mine who pointed out 1 Corinthians 7:25ff where Paul tells single people that they might want to think about not getting married in the time of the “present distress” [v.26]. While marriage is good, we need to exercise moderation even on that, and consider whether it would be wise to do these things. Someone else pointed out the story of the ant who prepares for winter, and the man who does not prepare is the sluggard [Proverbs 6:6-8]. The Bible is replete with examples of blessing alongside of moderation. Hence, the Quiverfull advocate does not have a Biblical conception of a blessing.

The reason why I bring this up is because of the fact that, when I quoted Proverbs 25:16 to this Quiverfull advocate, he said that this text refers to gluttony! Again, a=b. When the context was pointed out to him, he then tried to argue that you cannot overindulge in children. Someone very quickly pointed out financial and health problems that can come with having a large number of children. Finally, he tried to make a distinction between the blessings spoken of in Proverbs 25 and children. However, even that doesn’t work since, although there are certainly differences between honey and children nowhere does the Bible ever use those differences to say that children are not to be received in moderation. In fact, verse 28 seems to say otherwise, namely, that anyone who has no limits is like a city broken in without walls. The Bible makes no distinction in the handling of God’s blessings in moderation, and hence, the Quiverfull argument is refuted.

However, again, you cannot just make assumptions. You have to go to the Bible, and establish that they have an improper conception of a blessing. In fact, what is ironic is that, while Quiverfull advocates will accuse us of being influenced liberals and feminists, we can see here that the Quiverfull conception of a blessing is actually influenced by modern culture. We have lots of accesses in our culture: food, entertainment, etc. Quiverfull just adds one more excess: children. However, again, you have to show this from scripture.

Now, one of the problems I have seen in my own thinking is that simply being a scholar will cure you of all of this. I believe I have read enough scholarly material now to know that it will not. I have seen scholars read all kinds of ideas into the text such as naturalism, secularism, rationalism, unbiblical ideas that are historically reformed, etc. etc. etc. Being a scholar does not mean that you are somehow immune to this kind of etic interpretation. The whole question is whether you are going to love the scriptures more than your traditions. I think it is especially hard for Presbyterians to see this because there was a time period at the turn of the twentieth century when there was a departure from the historic reformed ideas, followed by an influx of liberalism. However, I would submit that it was not the separation from historic reformed teaching that gave rise to liberalism. It was the separation from the authority of scripture. Hence, we need to be willing to test even our historic reformed understanding of issues against the text of scripture. If you are committed to your traditions rather than to the scriptures, you will always be reading the scriptures through the lens of your traditions.

A case in point is a book I ran across recently by a Bryan C. Hodge entitled The Christian Case Against Contraception: Making the Case from Historical, Biblical, Systematic, and Practical Theology & Ethics. I recently read the comments section of a blog where Bryan Hodge was carrying on quite nastily, and not answering people’s questions, but, instead, kept referring people back to his book. That got me curious. I found the book on Amazon, and there is a program on Amazon that allows you to read sections of the book. If you just click on the picture of the book’s cover, it should bring it up. There were some quite extensive sections included in that book. However, his argumentation betrays something very interesting. First, let us consider discussion of James Jordan from appendix E:

He [Jordan] then argues that widows should get remarried or they are in sin; and people should marry young and try and have as many children as possible or they are in sin. Of course, both of these assume that the command is for individuals rather than couples. However, this is not a viable interpretation of Genesis 1:28.

Jordan Himself admits that if the couple in Genesis 1:28 are being commanded as the married couple in 2:24 then his argument fails. Hodge, Bryan C. [The Christian Case Against Contraception: Making the Case from Historical, Biblical, Systematic, and Practical Theology & Ethics Wipf & Stock Publishers. Eugene, Oregon. 2010. p.254]

My first thought was that it is ridiculous to say that this command refers to couples as well as saying it refers to individuals. Is Hodge here saying that this text binds him and his wife to have twenty trillion children so that they fill the earth? Is he saying that having twenty children is sinful, and that you need to have twenty trillion? Ironically, any individualistic interpretation of this text fails right here. You have to read the text consistently. Whoever is being commanded to “Be Fruitful and Multiply” is also being commanded to “fill the earth.” It is totally arbitrary to break those two commands up. If “Be fruitful and multiply” is a command given to an individual couple, then no couple has ever fulfilled this command, because it is biologically impossible for one couple to have that many children. Not only that, where is Adam and Eve in this text? They don’t show up until chapter 2! This text, as I have said before, and as I have said in my exegesis of this passage, is a command given to the entire species of mankind, and not to individual people or couples.

He continues:

Genesis 1 and 2 display complementary theological viewpoints of the same event. They are not two separate events. Chapter 2 plays off of chapter 1 and vice versa. Hence, the command states that God has said to them, “Be Fruitful and Multiply, etc.” The couple is addressed as a couple, and this is the same couple that we see in chapter 2. The reason given, therefore, for marriage is that male and female who were created must become one flesh. Why must they become one flesh? Because they are to be fruitful and multiply. Why are they to be fruitful and multiply? Because it is not good for the man to be a single unit, but instead to be united to the larger group of humanity that will be his children. Hence, the woman has been made to be his helper, so that he is no longer the only human, and God can reverse the state of Genesis 1:2, where the earth is uninhabited. The original texts refute Jordan’s claim that the command is to individuals (as though it were possible for an individual to have children apart from coupling with another individual of the opposite sex anyway) [Hodge, p.255]

Again, I don’t endorse Jordan’s view that this command is given to individuals, but does the fact that we have two parallel accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 mean that we must somehow assume that there is a human couple spoken of in Genesis 1:26-28? First of all, that would assume that no one could understand Genesis 1:26-28 until they got to chapter 2. Such would make Genesis 1:26-28 totally unintelligible, and thus, it would be entirely problematic for Moses to put it first. Secondly, what if 1:26-28 were talking about the creation of and commandments to the species as a whole [c.f. 1:22 where fish as a species and birds as a species are commanded to “Be Fruitful and multiply”], and then Genesis 2 were an explanation of the creation of the first man and woman, and their relationship to one another in marriage, and their relationship to God? Thus, Genesis 1 is only talking about the species as a whole, and Genesis 2 is talking about the first couple, namely, Adam and Eve.

Not only that, but also consider, again, the antecedent is right there in the text:

Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The antecedent to “them” is “man” or, more precisely, the Hebrew term ~d’a’. When ~d’a’ is used as the antecedent to plural pronouns, it generally means something like “mankind.” Consider the definition given by HALOT:

Gn 1-5: 126-30 coll. mankind (Boehmer ZAW 34:31ff; in Gn 2f, trad. the first man like vyaih’; coll. also in Gn 2f (cj. 220b and 317b and 21, rd. vyaih’Åa’l’ cf. 320) 51b.2 :: 425 51a.3-5, ï III ~d’a'</ [HALOT] Bibleworks edition. Emphasis mine]

Again, this interpretation is especially strengthened by the plural suffixes since, if ~d’a’ is not a collective noun referring to “mankind,” what other definition of ~d’a’ is there that would fit the context, and fit with the plural suffixes? It just simply will not work to take this passage as a command to individuals or couples.

I should also mention that this command is repeated in Genesis 9:1, and the text specifically says that the command is given “to Noah.” The problem is that Noah didn’t have any other sons after this point. Before the flood, he had three sons, and we learn from Genesis 10 that he had no more. Did he and his wife not understand that they, as a couple, were commanded to have more children?

However, Hodge continues:

The Lord Jesus helps us understand that in creation of humanity is, not the creation of individuals, but of couples. The command is, therefore, given to the couple, not to individuals apart from this coupled relationship. When speaking of divorce, the Lord states that God made them male and female for the purpose of the one flesh union. In other words, the couple in 1:28 is linked to the married couple in 2:24 (Matt 19:4-6) [Hodge, p.255]

However, again, Hodge is missing the point of the text. Here is what Jesus says in Matthew 19:4-6:

Matthew 19:3-6 And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh ‘? 6 “Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

The context here is a polemic challenge as to the validity of a man divorcing his wife. Jesus is merely asserting the fact that God created man into two classes, and he himself joins individuals from those classes together. Hence, the nature of marriage goes back to creation, is done directly by God, and hence, what God has joined together, no man can separate. Nowhere in this text is Jesus trying to connect the referent of the pronoun “them” in 1:27 with the couple of 2:24. He is making two different points from each passage. The first, that God made mankind in two subtypes, male and female, and the second that it is God that joins men together. Again, we see how reading the text through the lens of early American culture and the church fathers can cause you to read things into the text that are not there.

Now, the next part is somewhat technical [and somewhat condescending, I thought]:

Jordan, also following Meyers, makes the observation that the noun teknogonia has an article in front of it. They erroneously conclude that this somehow means that the phrase must be translated as “the childbirth” referring to the birth of Christ. There are two problems with this analysis.

First, the noun teknogonia is an abstract noun, something indicated by the ia ending in Greco-Latin morphology, and does not mean “childbirth” in a concrete sense, as would be needed in the designation of a specific event (i.e., like the birth of Christ). The list of abstract nouns in the context (i.e., pistei, agape, hagiasmos, and sophrosune) also bears this out.

Second, the presence of the definite article on an abstract noun does not mean it should be translated as “the childbirth,” as though the article made the abstract a more concrete substantive. As per basic Greek syntax, abstract nouns appearing with our without the article carry the same meaning. The only thing the article with an abstract noun may indicate, when the author chooses to employ it, is grammatical “markedness,” and therefore, it may place an emphasis on the words(s) chosen [Hodge, p.259].

Now, that sounds really impressive. The problem is, though, it is grossly simplistic. In linguistics, the distinction between abstract and concrete nouns is shown to be far more complicated than we had originally imagined. John Lyons in his two volume work on syntax lays out the reality of the case [John Lyons (Section 11.3)]. Lyons actually divides nouns into three categories: first order nouns, second order nouns, and third order nouns. First order nouns are things which denote entities in time and space. Second order nouns designate events or processes. Third order nouns designate entities that are not observable. Before this, most people thought that second and third order nouns should be lumped into one as abstract. However, as you can see, there is a clear difference between events or processes which can either be observed or spoken of in the abstract, and things which can never be observed. This, however, is a crucial distinction that is extremely problematic for Hodge’s position. For example, teknogonia is a second order noun, and all of the words he cited as proof for his interpretation in the context [pistei, agape, hagiasmos, and sophrosune] are third order nouns, not second order nouns. Pistei means “faith,” agape means “love,” hagiasmos means “holiness,” and sophrosune means “reasonableness.” Those are all third order nouns. Hence, the fact that these “abstract” nouns are in the context does not prove anything with regards to the meaning of this passage.

However, it gets much worse for Hodge. Dr. Daniel B. Wallace has written a grammar discussing the semantics of various syntactical structures in New Testament Greek called Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament which is pretty much the standard textbook of most seminaries today. Dr. Wallace does talk about the usage of the article with definite nouns. He writes:

a) Definition

Abstract nouns by their very nature focus on a quality.39 However, when such a noun is articular, that quality is “tightened up,” as it were, defined more closely, distinguished from other notions. This usage is quite frequent (articular abstract nouns are far more frequent than anarthrous abstracts).

b) Amplification

In translating such nouns, the article should rarely be used (typically, only when the article also fits under some other individualizing category, such as anaphoric). But, in exposition, the force of the article should be brought out. Usually, the article with an abstract noun fits under the par excellence and well-known categories but in even a more technical way. As well, frequently it particularizes a general quality.

The article with abstract nouns often has a certain affinity with articular generic nouns in that both focus on traits and qualities. But there are differences: one focuses on a quality via its lexeme (abstract), while another focuses on a category grammatically (generic) [Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament Zondervan Publishing House. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1996 p.226]

Now, if we just take what Wallace says here, it would seem to support what Hodge has said. However, as you can see, there is that footnote after the word “quality” in the very first line that needs to be read. And when you do, it refutes Hodge’s entire position:

39We are restricting our definition of abstract nouns, for the most part, to what Lyons calls “Third order entities” (J. Lyons, Semantics [Cambridge: CUP, 1977] 2.442-46). First order entities are physical objects; second order entities are “events, processes, states of affairs, etc., which are located in time and which, in English, are said to occur or take place, rather than to exist” (ibid., 444); third order entities are “unobservable and cannot be said to occur or to be located either in space or in time… ‘true’ rather than ‘real,’ is more naturally predicated of them; they can be asserted or denied, remembered or forgotten; they can be reasons, but not causes…In short, they are entities of the kind that may function as the objects of such so-called propositional attitudes as belief, expectation, and judgement: they are what logicians often call intensional objects” (ibid., 443-445). [Wallace, p.226 n.39]

In other words, the usage about articles on abstract nouns to which Hodge refers is only for third order nouns. Because teknogonia could be construed as either an event or a process [or both] it clearly fits into the second class category, and hence, is totally immune to what Hodge is saying.

However, again, it is difficult to understand how he would think this interpretation suspect when Paul has been addressing creation and the fall. In the context of Genesis 2 and 3, to which Paul refers, where do we find salvation and childbearing? Genesis 3:15, which he, as a Presbyterian should know is traditionally referring to Christ:

Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Again, it is hard to understand how someone who wanted us to interpret the New Testament and Old Testament together in Genesis 1:26-28, 2:24, and Matthew 19:4-6 now wants to isolate the New Testament from the Old Testament passage that Paul is referring to! The arbitrariness is amazing.

However, finally, are we really to suggest that a woman is to be saved by having children? How is this not works salvation? Not only that, but why does he not mention that the view that James Jordan espouses on this text was actually held by several church fathers throughout the history of the church? In several chapters in his book, he criticizes Protestants who disagree with his position on contraception by saying that they are in disagreement with the history of the church. While I think he is wrong, we need to ask, even if that is true, why does he not mention the interpretation of the fathers with regards to this verse? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

The final thing I wanted to post to respond to is the most ludicrous of all the things we have read. First, he quotes James Jordan as saying:

I need to make this point Nowhere does the Bible forbid contraception. It is not mentioned in the Law, which certainly mentions plenty of other sexual matters. There are loads of “thou shalt nots” in the Bible, but nowhere do we find anything like thou shalt not practice contraception.” The silence of the Bible on this subject is a pregnant silence, since contraception was practiced in the ancient world [Hodge p.252].

He then writes this amazing parody:

I need to make this point Nowhere does the Bible forbid pedophilia. It is not mentioned in the Law, which certainly mentions plenty of other sexual matters. There are loads of “thou shalt nots” in the Bible, but nowhere do we find anything like thou shalt not practice pedophilia.” The silence of the Bible on this subject is a pregnant silence, since pedophilia was practiced in the ancient world [Hodge, ibid.]

He also includes among these things pornography [actually, it is condemned in Ezekiel 23], masturbation [condemned in Jesus’ statements about lust], and a whole bunch of other things that the Bible explicitly condemns, and then wants to misrepresent James Jordan as trying to argue that we must limit scripture to the letter. That is not James Jordan’s point. His point is that we don’t have the words or the concepts anywhere in scripture, and only the most egregious amount of eisegesis and unproven assumptions would ever make them say something that wasn’t even an issue to the Biblical authors. We understand contraception in the Ancient Near East, and nothing in the Bible ever even remotely approaches it, in concept or in vocabulary. That is James Jordan’s point. Not only that, he also says all of these things by pejoratively calling James Jordan a “legalist,” and saying that he is following the letter to “excuse his immoral practices by limiting the scripture to the explicit letter.” Such is mere slander. I cannot be certain, and I don’t like to read people’s hearts, but I think that the slip is showing here, and he is showing us that deep down inside he knows that the Biblical evidence against contraception is weak, and, I would argue, nonexistent. It is sad that he has chosen slander as the way to handle whatever he is thinking. Also, to argue that James Jordan has a simplistic approach to scripture that doesn’t consider the entirety of the law is simply laughable to anyone who knows of James Jordan’s “Interpretational Maximalism.” You can find way more types and connections in that methodology than is warranted by the text. I had someone tell me that James Jordan never saw a connection in the text of scripture he did not think was publish-worthy. The fact that Hodge can see connections in the text that James Jordan cannot should speak volumes.

Also, in terms of connections, and relationships between passages, if it is not controlled by language, you can come to the conclusion that anything is wrong. Such connections must be exegetically justified, and I would say that for both James Jordan and Bryan Hodge.

So, what would cause a man to do something like this with the text of scripture? Well, let me just quote something that he wrote here:

Having said that, it is my hope to make it clear in this article that, although what is taught sounds similar, neither the New Testament nor the Fathers adopt Stoic views on our present subject. They simply do not believe what Stoics believe about sexual desire, and hence, their arguments do not follow that train of thought. Their view, in following the trajectory of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, follow the course laid out by Genesis 1:26-28 and Leviticus 18. Whatever language or arguments they may adopt beyond that, no matter how Stoic they may sound, are not, at their foundation, Stoic. [p.247]

Now it is my turn to do a parody. Let us see if this sounds familiar:

Having said that, it is my hope to make it clear in this article that, although what is taught sounds similar, neither the New Testament nor the Fathers adopt Gnostic views on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. They simply do not believe what Gnostics believe about sexual relations, and hence, their arguments do not follow that train of thought, since many of them believed that sexual relations were good.. Their view, in following the trajectory of the Ezekiel in Ezekiel 44:2, follow the course laid out by Luke 1:34 and John 19:26-27. Whatever language or arguments they may adopt beyond that, no matter how Gnostic they may sound, are not, at their foundation, Gnostic.

Does that sound like a Roman Catholic apologist or what! Even though it looks like Stoicism and smells like Stoicism, because there are a few differences, and because those trying to pass it along in Christianity use scripture, it can’t be rooted in Stoicism! Noonan’s point was not that the church’s teaching is pure Stoicism; rather, he argued that the Church was influenced by Stoicism, and the Stoic position on this issue developed into the anti-contraception position that we have today.

Even worse, the reason why I posted this is section is because Hodge’s ultimate authority on this issue is showing in full view. He presupposes that, if he sees all the early church fathers agreeing with this, then it must be the correct interpretation of scripture, no matter how weak the exegesis itself is. Why does he not simply say that the church fathers wandered from scripture because of the influence of Stoicism? Because the weak interpretations of scripture that lead to the anti-contraception position are, in his mind, bolstered by the testimony of the early church. That is eerily similar to the material sufficiency view of scripture found in the Roman Catholic Church, where, no matter how outrageous an interpretation is, if the early church is united, you must accept it. Keep in mind that the early church fathers all believed in Baptismal Regeneration. They also all believed in the Jesus Victor view of the atonement. Yet, Hodge does not believe these things, and neither does the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, the traditions that you like, you take. The traditions that you don’t like, you leave. Then you take those traditions and impose them on scripture.

Again, what this boils down to is anachronism. The fathers and the reformers are being read back into the text instead of letting the text speak for itself. We end up reading the Bible in an incredibly etic fashion with this line of reasoning, all because we want our traditions to be taught in the text of scripture. When you have an external authority, such as the reformers, the church fathers, or some other group’s teaching that you say that you presuppositionally must see in the text, then you will always see it in the text, no matter how outrageous your interpretation is. That is why we need to be willing to lay aside things that may be very ancient if they do not match up with the text of scripture. I do need to quickly add that I do not think that Bryan Hodge is a Roman Catholic. I would say that his methodology is very much parallel to Roman Catholic methodology on this issue. I would be willing to bet that, were we to discuss the Doctrines of Grace or Justification by Faith Alone you would see a totally different man. Also, I want to make it clear that I don’t write off the church fathers and the reformers. I think it is very important to study them, and many times they can be a good starting place to get ideas on the meaning of a text. However, ultimately, their views must be tested against scripture, and weighed on scripture alone, not scripture and the church.

However, now I have a surprise for you. Guess what Bryan Hodge’s credentials are:

Bryan C. Hodge holds degrees from Moody Bible Institute and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he also taught as a Teaching Fellow in Hebrew Bible. He has served as a pastor for many years in the Presbyterian Church of America and currently resides in Pennsylvania with his wife and five children, as he completes a ThM in New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Yes, holding degrees does not make you always able to escape etic interpretation, especially if you have external things that are influencing your interpretation, such as fathers, Puritans, or reformers. He must have been at Trinity quite a while ago since it says that he served as a pastor for several years. You would think that someone who is this educated would not fall into this trap, and take a grossly minority position on this issue. However, he has, and it is largely due to a willingness to not test his traditions up against scripture, but, rather to impose them on scripture. What this reminds us is that we are all susceptible to it, no matter how much education we have.

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2 Responses to “Quiverfull and Etic Interpretation”

  1. Bryan Hodge Says:

    Adam,

    Although your critique of my book was not generous to say the least, and I would like you to back up the claim that I was nasty on Parchment and Pen blog (where I regularly hang out) or withdraw your statement (others were quite nasty to me, I did not return the favor), I would still like to address some issues here as graciously as I can (and that will be a challenge with the unfortunate rhetoric that you have chosen here–I would seriously doubt that my old professors would approve of such rhetoric which comes close to slander within itself).

    Ironically, if you read the book (and this is why I could not simply reproduce it in blog comments) I actually utilize the methodology you suggest. The problem is that you are reading appendices and unaware of how I came to those positions. You, of course, may still disagree once you read the book, but at least you will know that methodology is not the issue of our disagreement (hence, the need for dealing with presuppositions that guide our interpretations).

    A few general comments:

    The idea that Jesus is making two different arguments in Matt is ad hoc on your part. Jesus connects the two passages in His single argument that verifies the male and female relationship of Genesis 1 and 2. The connection between Gen 1 and 2 is signified by eneka toutou (although originally this is connected to the bone of my bone statement in Gen 2. Your interpretation really takes issues with mine because of your plural understanding of ’adam, which I don’t believe to be the case based on the parallel with Gen 2-11 (Of course, if you see P as simply ad hoc then you will not tend to take statements concerning Adam in 2-11 as parallel). However, I fail to see how interpreting this as mankind as negating my position. You may disagree that the couple is the direct recipient of the command, and that this is for mankind in general, but this is essentially what I believe in that the couple represent all couples (which is the way Christians, including Christ, have always viewed the first couple—hence, Christ applies commands given to them to the divorce argument the Pharisees are making in their own generation, i.e., the command applies for all generations and what was intended by God for all mankind).

    “Now, the next part is somewhat technical [and somewhat condescending, I thought]:”

    Please, Adam, refrain from attributing an imaginary “tone” to what I say. I had no ill will in my comments. I simply pointed out a basic exegetical mistake by someone who is extremely condescending to those who don’t agree with him. I’ve never called James Jordan names, like quack, for believing what he does. He does not share this restrained in dealing with those who disagree with him however. Did you call him out on that btw?

    “For example, teknogonia is a second order noun, and all of the words he cited as proof for his interpretation in the context [pistei, agape, hagiasmos, and sophrosune] are third order nouns, not second order nouns.”

    This is what I would call extra-contextual grammaticalization. 1. You’re essentially arguing (using Lyons, which I reject, and Wallace, who is not addressing this issue specifically) that since the lexical referent (whether observable or not) in the form of an abstract noun is distinct from other types of nouns, that somehow means that teknogonia is concrete. The point is that it functions here in a list of abstract nouns, has the morphology of an abstract noun, and hence, the article does not make the noun concrete, whether it is observable or otherwise.
    2. Wallace’s footnote does not negate what I said. You think this to be the case because you’re not paying attention to the argument made. Wallace’s argument states that events and processes are in category 2 (ala Lyons), but your conclusion that this means teknogonia is therefore automatically category 2 fails to understand that Wallace is referring to what he “for the most part” takes to be an abstract noun. Even if Dan’s argument is accurate, you have still failed to prove that “2d class nouns” that are morphologically composed in the same manner as other abstract nouns do not function in the manner that I have indicated.
    The extra-contextual grammaticalization I referred to before, is not an appropriate way to do grammar. Grammar is contextual. The question should not be, How can I, in a reductionist manner btw, classify Greek nouns?, but instead, How is this noun used in this context within this string of other nouns?
    I for one do not throw away the old system that does signify abstraction through morphology and context.
    Finally, the logic of the text ends up making it sound like Eve’s salvation through Christ’s death is dependent upon whether the women who follow her persevere in faith, love and sanctity with self control. Why would Eve’s salvation be dependent upon the works of others? I think there is some confusion here.

    “He also includes among these things pornography [actually, it is condemned in Ezekiel 23], masturbation [condemned in Jesus’ statements about lust], and a whole bunch of other things that the Bible explicitly condemns, and then wants to misrepresent James Jordan as trying to argue that we must limit scripture to the letter. That is not James Jordan’s point. His point is that we don’t have the words or the concepts anywhere in scripture, and only the most egregious amount of eisegesis and unproven assumptions would ever make them say something that wasn’t even an issue to the Biblical authors.”

    No, it’s not his point. He backtracks on this argument and tries to buffer himself from the criticism others, such as myself, would make against him (which I mention in the book btw); but the argument is essentially an idea that limits the text to the explicit. In reality, neither Jordan nor anyone else does this. It only becomes an argument, and food for anti-life advocates, such as yourself, when trying to save their right to wipe out their children through contraception.

    “We understand contraception in the Ancient Near East, and nothing in the Bible ever even remotely approaches it, in concept or in vocabulary. That is James Jordan’s point.”

    Here, you just did what Jordan does. Let me give you my parody: “We understand pedophilia in the Ancient Near East, and nothing in the Bible ever even remotely approaches it, in concept or in vocabulary. That is Adam’s point.”

    “Not only that, he also says all of these things by pejoratively calling James Jordan a “legalist,” and saying that he is following the letter to “excuse his immoral practices by limiting the scripture to the explicit letter.” Such is mere slander.”

    Now, this one was a bit unfair (not that your previous statement were fair–I mean, you haven’t even read the book). My point was against Jordan, who slandered the entire Christian Church before him as legalists for saying the practice of contraception was evil. My point was to say that legalists, according to Scripture rather than popular thought, limit the expansion of Scriptural principles (principles I establish in the main part of the book btw) to the letter. That’s Christ’s point about legalism in Matt 5. Is He a slanderer or simply telling the truth? Of course, we would say the latter, but why then attribute to me the former if such an assertion can be spoken in terms of the latter?

    “However, finally, are we really to suggest that a woman is to be saved by having children? How is this not works salvation?”

    Because she’s also told that she is saved if she perseveres in faith, love and holiness in self control. This isn’t talking about justification. The word “salvation” also refers to sanctification, and that seems to be Paul’s emphasis in the immediate and larger context of 1 Tim.

    Because the argument of the book isn’t that everything the Fathers believed about a particular passage should be followed by the rest of the Church. The argument is that they are guided in their theology and ethics. That’s a massive distinction, since twenty Christians can disagree on the interpretation of one text, but should not disagree on important points of theology and ethics.

    “He also includes among these things pornography [actually, it is condemned in Ezekiel 23], masturbation [condemned in Jesus’ statements about lust],”

    Actually, plenty of people try to argue that masturbation isn’t wrong if someone does not lust after another woman (I had a prof at Moody argue this). So the Bible never does condemn masturbation. And taking Ezek 23:14 as a condemnation of pornography is a bit of a stretch. The context condemns the woman for lusting after those men, not the depictions on the wall (not to mention that basar is a bit ambiguous). But this is beside the point.

    “Does that sound like a Roman Catholic apologist or what! Even though it looks like Stoicism and smells like Stoicism, because there are a few differences, and because those trying to pass it along in Christianity use scripture, it can’t be rooted in Stoicism! Noonan’s point was not that the church’s teaching is pure Stoicism; rather, he argued that the Church was influenced by Stoicism, and the Stoic position on this issue developed into the anti-contraception position that we have today.”

    This is where I really think your objectivity has been thrown out the window. You’re critiquing my conclusion as though it was my main argument. That’s really inappropriate. I didn’t just state this, I argued the case for it in the appendix. Can you parody my entire argument? Stoic arguments are made against the Christian argument against homosexuality as well. This has nothing to do with whether the Christian argument IS primarily influenced by Stoicism, which is what I mean by something being Stoic. I wasn’t arguing that Noonan (which btw, have you read Noonan?) was making the argument that the early Christians were Stoics or their position exactly Stoic. He was arguing that their position was primarily Stoic in its influence rather than biblical.

    “Even worse, the reason why I posted this is section is because Hodge’s ultimate authority on this issue is showing in full view. He presupposes that, if he sees all the early church fathers agreeing with this, then it must be the correct interpretation of scripture, no matter how weak the exegesis itself is.”

    Yes, this is why I spent an entire book arguing the biblical and theological justification for the Church’s view; but what you will learn is that presuppositions guide our interpretations and this makes the Church a more valuable ally to our theological positions than our Descartian autonomy. Once again, please read the book.

    “that is eerily similar to the material sufficiency view of scripture found in the Roman Catholic Church, where, no matter how outrageous an interpretation is, if the early church is united, you must accept it.”

    Yes, just like all those Roman Catholics like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon et al. Don’t you think it lacks just a bit of humility to argue this way? Everyone else in the Church held an outrageous position but me and my immediate generations?

    Finally,– I really am going to try and say this with as much grace as I can without it being read as derogatory– I would suggest actually getting the book and reading it before you read appendices that are supplemental to the main arguments made in the book. It’s simply disingenuous to give such a scathing critique of a book you have not even read. I know you think I was being “nasty” (I’m not sure where you got this; if anything, people were being nasty to me; I was simply suggesting to them to get the book because I can’t rewrite the entire thing on a blog) by suggesting that people get the book; but this issue needs to be given careful reflection and thought—something those who respond in a knee-jerk fashion are not willing to give it, but I do wish they would, as we’re talking about what God may or may not approve or disapprove of.

    Arguments such as “where do we find salvation and childbearing?” can only be made by someone who has not read what was said in the book.

    Again, “Again, it is hard to understand how someone who wanted us to interpret the New Testament and Old Testament together in Genesis 1:26-28, 2:24, and Matthew 19:4-6 now wants to isolate the New Testament from the Old Testament passage that Paul is referring to! The arbitrariness is amazing.”

    I’m not sure how it’s arbitrary to take things in their respective contexts. My argument about the audience of the mandate (which I view as couples represented by Adam and Eve, not just Adam and Eve, as though all commands in Scripture are only for their direct recipients); but concerning the passage, Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of this passage, not the direct fulfillment of it. For someone bemoaning people for taking things out of context, you ought to also appreciate someone taking Genesis first for what it says in its linguistic and ancient Near Eastern context. Where is Christ directly referred to in Genesis, as it would be understood to the ancient Israelites? That’s like reading a Psalm and saying this doesn’t apply to David because this is all about Christ (well, ultimately, sure, but not directly in the context).

    Ultimately, it seems like your swinging at anything because you just don’t like the position (hence, the rhetoric and vitriol). I would encourage you to speak well of the position held by those godly men and women who stood before you, as well as speaking well of them, even if you don’t agree with it. But the slander really is beyond the pale, and if you reconsider it, I would suggest rereading this post as though you were commenting on a book you liked. Then maybe you can see how it comes off.

    God bless.

  2. Hodge Responds « Old Testament Studies Blog Says:

    […] to make a seperate post for this, since this would take way too long to post in a comment section. Bryan Hodge has responded to my post. Again, I am simply amazed at how someone who is obviously competent can be so blinded by […]

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