Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Not With A Ten-Foot Pole

You can tell a fair bit about where modern evangelical culture is headed by the sorts of questions it asks and answers, and perhaps even more about it from those it doesn’t.

There are verses of scripture with which nearly everyone engages. Google-search a question related to one of these and you come up with pages and pages of links to discussions of the subject; more than anyone would ever have time to read. For example, the question “What is the sin unto death?” returns hundreds of possible answers based on what must be thousands of hours of Bible study.

Which is great if you’re concerned you might not yet have committed it and wish to avoid doing so.

Verses Nobody Wants to Discuss

Then there are verses nobody will touch with a ten-foot pole. Here’s the quintessential useless Google search for you: “What does Let them ask their husbands at home mean?” Strangely, nobody wants to discuss that one.

Oh, you’ll find plenty of posts that address 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. That’s not a problem. Most are deeply concerned with the specific means by which they may most effectively explain away Paul’s instruction that “women should keep silent in the churches.” If you want to read a summary of the various modern evasions of 1,900+ years of church practice, our old friend Marg Mowczko has done the heavy lifting and assembled a long list of possible interpretations all in one place.

But what is it about this specific line that makes everyone run for the hills rather than talk about it?
“If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.”
I wish I knew.

At Least It Makes a Snappy Title ...

Lanny Smith uses the phrase “Let them ask their husbands at home” as the title of his article, but talks only about the preceding verses having to do with the church and silence. Nothing about the husband, nothing about home.

UK Apologetics? Same deal.

Things to Come? Yep, you guessed it.

Grace Communion International? Not much. A note to the effect that “Paul is giving ‘husbands at home’ as an illustration, not as a limitation on who can answer and where they must be. For example, it would be permissible to ask questions while walking home, or of other women, or of other men. Paul’s main point is, Don’t talk in church, not even to ask questions.” And later on: “A woman can ask the pastor, not just her own husband.”

A Pattern Emerges ... Almost

Are we starting to see a pattern here? It sure seems like it, not least in that every one of the preceding articles and others around them have male authors. (Marg Mowczko’s doesn’t, of course, but it’s really more of a compilation/summary, and in any case she too has not seen fit even to include other people’s expositions on that one near-impossible-to-exposit line in verse 35.)

The sole exception to the pattern seems to be a post at Spirit & Truth Fellowship International, whose author sets forth the unusual claim that these verses were not even in the original text, based largely on the fact that they seem unreasonable to him personally: “Would God be so insensitive as to tell the women not to speak, adding that if they had any questions they could ask their husbands at home?” or “How ‘good’ would it be to remain as a widow if it meant that you could not express yourself in the church and also had no husband at home to ask questions?” and “The wording of the text would leave the women who had no husbands, or whose husbands could not answer their questions, with no clear instruction about what God wanted them to do.”

No evidence, of course, but plenty of static.

Absolutely Not Meaningless

Okay, so far we’re pretty clear that the only reason men want to talk about this particular statement online is to dismiss it, explain it away or ignore it altogether. And the so-called “mommy bloggers”, who I assumed would be all over the subject like white on rice, don’t seem to want to weigh in on the question at all.

That seems odd to me, because it was written by an apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, and is said only two verses later to be “a command of the Lord”. It is absolutely not meaningless, and I wonder why it is so relentlessly downplayed today.

Sure, it’s only one line. Sure, it does not apply to single women or widows. Sure, it does not address every possible speculation we might raise about what happens when a woman has a husband who is not up to the job of answering her questions, or what happens when he’s not saved. Neither does it specifically forbid, when appropriate, asking questions of a male spiritual authority outside of a church setting, asking one’s husband to do the same on one’s behalf, or discussing the matter with friends.

What does seem to me perfectly clear from Paul’s statement is that if a married Christian woman wants to learn something and her questions are not being addressed in church, she ought to give her husband first crack at answering them.

Is that so hard? What could possibly go wrong?

Giving the Husband First Crack

A man who loves his wife loves the opportunity to meet her needs, and nothing is better for such a man than a clear indication from her of what those needs are. There’s little more frustrating than having a wife in a funk and being completely unable to drag out of her what it is that is bothering her. But a specific, clearly defined question, like “Honey, I was wondering how to reconcile the sovereignty of God with the free will of man”? Come on, men, that’s a comparative walk in the park!

Okay, maybe his first efforts won’t be perfect. Maybe he’ll struggle if he’s not a natural student. Maybe he’ll feel a little awkward the first time he asks your question to someone who might be able to help him with it. Maybe when he finally get back to you with an answer, he’ll sound like he’s memorized William MacDonald’s New Testament commentary ... because he has. But he’ll grow spiritually in the process, he’ll get to know you better than he knows you already, and he’ll be doing the job God has given him to do in this life. Moreover, you’ll be helping him get in spiritual shape for the day when his teenagers are asking him the same sorts of questions that are presently occurring to you. The importance of that cannot be overstated. Who doesn’t want to be remembered by his family with the words, “Boy, Grandpa really knew his Bible!”

And, sure, today you might well be able to Google the answer for yourself and never even bother bringing your football-engrossed hubby into the conversation. But what you accomplish when you follow Paul’s direction here is engage your husband in an exercise that is as profitable for him as it is profitable for you. Maybe more so. And wouldn’t a loving wife want to do that, especially if she’s doing it under the cover of a direct scriptural command?

Now, if your question turns out to be “What does Let them ask their husbands at home mean?”, I suppose you might be out of luck.

Nobody knows that.


  1. I’m always looking for your daily post, which arrives in my mailbox somewhere around 7:15. If it happens to be later than that, I’m checking my router to be sure it’s not my fault!

    My first thought is: "All Scripture is God-breathed." I know that Paul was identifying the O.T. at that point; but Peter gives us some authority for including Paul’s writings in that statement.

    So that means that chapter 14, although likely to generate debate, is God-breathed. No exceptions. You also indicate that a short distance from the problematic verse is Paul’s clear statement that the things he writes are "the commandments of the Lord”.

    Perhaps an anecdote might help:

    Some years ago, when I looked after the Emmaus courses, there was a sister in our assembly who was studying them, and who would come to me with questions about what she was studying. It often made me uncomfortable, and I felt that her relationship with her husband was not altogether what it should be. I wanted to back away, and on one occasion said to her: E-, why don’t you ask G-? (her husband). Her answer troubled me. “Oh, G- wouldn’t know anything.” I said that she should ask him anyway, she might be surprised at what he would know, or not know. And besides, it might just encourage him to look into it, and also appreciate her asking him. Sad to say, they moved away (geographically) so I don’t know the end of the story. He was one of the best in his business; laying down sheets for curling, and employment was the reason for their move.

    I believe what Paul is emphasizing in this passage is the order of the local church body, and that includes correct marital relations. The man is the head of the woman. That is clear from other passages, and I believe 14:35 is just one aspect of that relationship. Respect; not in a mousy sort of way, but in a godly way, is one of the beauties of a marriage. Of course, it works the other direction also. That is clearly taught in other passages. “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation…”

    All for now . . .

    1. Thank you, Patrick. That's exactly the sort of scenario I had in mind. I've seen the same sort of thing happen as my dad counselled women who were avid about the word of God, but never considered the possibility that they should involve their husbands in the process. Some took dad's advice, some probably did not, but the ones who did are happier today, I suspect.

  2. There are certainly many Christian women who never even think of asking their husbands about Biblical subjects. Sometimes that is the fault of the women, due to their lack of knowledge about scriptural patterns, their lack of faith in God's ability to guide and teach them through their husbands, or a prideful attitude that assumes they already know more about Scripture than their husband ever will. But there are also Christian women who would love to be able to ask their husbands to talk about Scripture with them, but their husbands show no interest in studying or discussing the Bible and any attempt to engage them in discussion is met with a shrug and a change of subject.

    I believe this verse is not only a reminder to women that the husband ought to be the spiritual head of the home and that they should give him opportunity to take that role whenever possible, but also a challenge to men to be the kinds of husbands their wives *can* ask for spiritual counsel and guidance. And that even if public preaching is not their gift, they can (and should) still be involved in teaching their wives and children.