Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Vashti as Role Model

I deal with legalese every day.

Our company has lawyers for clients, often dozens at a time. We also have templates that enable us to produce a lot of legal documentation very quickly. Sometimes the language in these templates differs from the instructions provided by our clients.

To deal with these apparent conflicts in authorial intent, the company has established a very basic principle of interpretation, and it is this: when the lawyers contradict the template, the lawyers always win. Why? Because instructions directed specifically to the current situation always trump instructions of a more general nature, which have often been written with other documents, other readers and different legal situations in view.

There is a similar principle at work in the interpretation of scripture.

It goes like this: For the most part, you get instruction from doctrinal passages and history from historical passages. History may give us good and bad examples, but we only know them to be good or bad because we have explicit teaching about what is right or wrong to judge them by, either in their immediate context or elsewhere in God’s word. The specific instructions directed to me always trump the more general lessons I can derive from Bible history.

That’s just common sense. We cannot afford to ignore specific, personal directions in favour of what is effectively template language.

Mark Driscoll apparently missed this lesson in seminary.

Driscoll and History

What is (former pastor, small ‘p’) Mark Driscoll doing now? Does anybody know, even the Internet? I know I’ve mentioned him before. Mars Hill Church in Seattle. If I recall, he may even have co-founded it. Fourteen thousand members, five states and fifteen locations. It’s probably on Wikipedia somewhere. Forbes magazine called Driscoll “one of the nation’s most prominent and celebrated pastors”.

Because “prominent and celebrated” is what pastors should be shooting for.

Anyway, Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill in October 2014. If he has been seen since, I haven’t found a reference to it. And yet strangely he still gets quoted … well, everywhere. Perhaps because his peculiar use of Bible history is useful to certain demographics:

This is one of his classics, from the book of Esther:
“So [King Ahasueras] picked Vashti because she was beautiful.

He’s drunk. Everyone’s drunk. All the women are alone having their party, the men are having their party, and he is seated on his throne. And he decides, ‘It’s time to show off my beautiful wife’. So he calls for Queen Vashti.

And you’ve got to hear it this way, right? I hear it like Don Knox after a weekend at Charlie Sheen’s house. He says it like this: “GET ME VASHTI! GET VASHTI!” Think of the guy who’s just really drunk, out of control. At this point he’s on his throne but he’s probably sideways, you know, kinda hanging off the throne. You’ve got to see him in that light. “GET VASHTI!” Maybe all the military guys are cheering, “We wanna see the Queen! We wanna see the Queen! Go get her!”

Now we don’t know what she’s wearing. Some indicate that she’s underdressed, or perhaps the request is that she would come undressed. How many of you women — that doesn’t sound like a good day. The guys have been drunk for six months. Your husband is hammered and wants you to come and do a bit of a stroll in front of a bunch of drunk soldiers.

Some of you ladies are, like, “The Bible says, ‘Wives, submit to your husbands.’ ”

Now the debate is this: There’s no indication whether Vashti did a good thing or a bad thing. There’s no indication she’s a believer. If she has any religious convictions, she’s probably Zoroastrian. She doesn’t worship the God of the Bible. So we’re not saying that she’s a godly woman, you know?”
And yet, somehow, Driscoll is saying precisely that:
“Here’s what I believe: Vashti made a noble, courageous, brave, moral decision. She stood up to a guy who was never stood up to. Nobody ever told him no. I believe she made a good decision. I believe she made the right decision.”
Up to this point I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. Vashti was Persian queen, not a Christian housewife. She had no relationship with the God of the Hebrews and no specific instructions she was violating. If she felt it was worth risking her life and crown to preserve her dignity, that was very much her call. And it was certainly brave. But unfortunately the sermon is not over.

The Problem in the Application

Perhaps Driscoll’s former Mars Hill enablers didn’t like where he was headed. I can only speculate, because the video ends here followed by a pitch for cash contributions from internet followers. The sermon didn’t end though, and while the transcript has been deleted from the Mars Hill site, it still exists elsewhere online, so we get to see how it ends:
“The Bible does say respect, obey, honor your husband. Submit to him. The Bible also tells the husbands to love their wives, to honor the Lord, to obey the Scriptures, to be under the authority of the elders in the church, and to be under the authority of the government.

And ladies, sometimes the godliest thing is to say no. I believe what Vashti did was noble, it was brave, it was good, it was right. And some of you ladies, you’ve mastered the art of saying no. Like, you’re — you could, like, teach a grad school class on how to jam up a man. Right? I mean, you landed the dismount. Boom, nailed it again. You’re really good at it. Okay?

Now, some of you ladies have never even tried. You’re always like, “Yes, okay. Whatever you say. Whatever you want.” No, pick your chin up. Look him in the eye. “No! No.” I’ve seen this repeatedly, where there’s a foolish man with a wise woman and her not speaking is not helping. Ladies, use a loving voice, use a respectful voice, use a godly voice, but don’t lose your voice. And sometimes, a woman has to prayerfully, carefully just say no. Vashti says what? No.”
Here Driscoll has explicitly turned a historical account of dubious relevance into a lesson for modern Christian wives and daughters. The Holy Spirit makes no comment whatsoever about Vashti’s choice, in context or outside it. Even if he had, no Christian woman I know of has ever had to deal with a situation comparable to this one. Any lesson we might draw from it could hardly apply within a Christian home.

The New Testament Answer

Furthermore, Driscoll’s application directly contradicts the plain teaching of the apostles. If we want to understand how things are to function in the Christian home, we get our teaching about it not from historical passages in the Old Testament but from doctrinal passages in the New, like this one:
“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
Here Peter uses an OT example just like Driscoll’s to teach precisely the opposite lesson Driscoll has drawn from Esther. But Peter was an apostle and Driscoll is not.

Of course if you want to teach Christian women that rejecting authority is okay — even necessary and godly — you need SOMETHING from the Bible, even if it doesn’t teach what you say it does, and even if you have to abandon all traditional interpretive methodology to get there.

Do Dubious Historical Examples Really Trump NT Doctrine?

Without commentary from the Holy Spirit, we simply cannot know with any certainty whether Vashti’s conduct was good, bad, or neutral or irrelevant — unless we assume our answer uncritically and import it into the text.

You can’t derive instructions for Christian conduct from Old Testament history. It’s. Not. There.

The problem with using history as our guide is that we can pick and choose examples to make history say whatever we like. If we dislike U.S. immigration policies, we can cite Israel’s extermination of the Canaanites as our precedent. If we think blacks are inferior, we can point to Ham’s curse. And if we dislike the notion of a husband’s authority over the wife at home, we can cite Vashti.

Doctrine is a whole lot harder to misinterpret. That doesn’t stop people from trying, but it tends to make their agenda just a little more apparent.


  1. By sheer coincidence, this article from the Seattle PI yesterday reveals Driscoll's new project: Trinity Church in Phoenix, named after the church in Seattle founded by Driscoll's in-laws.

    Trinity's strictures appear to be six:

    "Pray first."
    "The pedals on our bike are Bible teaching and relationships."
    "Loving relationships are the mark of good theology."
    "Fun is fundamental."
    "Build people up, don't beat people up."

    and, inevitably:

    "$ Vision requires provision."

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Sexual violence and abuse are always bad things, and of course the victim is not to blame. However, I'm confident God's answers for Christian women in such situations are not to be found in the first chapter of Esther.

    2. Um...sorry, "Unknown," but I think you're way out in left field, frankly.

      First of all, no Christian is, by definition, a pagan queen considering the request of her king-husband -- so by definition, what Tom's said about that being not "comparable" is plainly true. Secondly, the passage never tells us there was any kind of "sexual assault" going on, nor does it tell us why Vashti refused her king-husband's command -- we have no idea whether or not she was a "victim" in any sense at all. (But note that she did not feel she could not refuse, and the males feared "contempt" from the women of their acquaintance; so it would not at all seem to be a situation in which Vashti was acting as a "victim," but rather as a person dealing from a position she probably felt was quite strong: but we can't know for sure, so why make a point out of thin air?) Finally, nobody said anything about anyone "asking for it," so I can't even imagine where you're pulling in that idea from. It bears no resemblance to anything Tom said or implied.

      Now, if perhaps you're reading back a personal trauma into this situation, and imagining an equivalency in Vashti's experience, then all I can say is that I'm genuinely sorry for what you may have faced; but in point of truth, if you look again, I think you'll see it has zero to do with this passage or Tom's comment.

  3. I found this post to have very interesting insight on Driscoll’s message. I was wondering if you could elaborate on what you meant when you stated: “Even if he had, no Christian woman I know of has ever had to deal with a situation comparable to this one.”?
    Thank you.

    1. Being commanded by her husband's servants to put herself on display for his drunken friends.

    2. Alright. So just to be clear you are saying that you don’t think that any Christian woman has experienced a situation that resembles this one?

    3. No, what I'm saying is that I am personally unaware of any comparable modern situation involving Christians.