A Comparison of Hermeneutics

By Alison Rowan

I had a Complementarian make this comment to me in criticism of the exegetical hermeneutics which I use alongside understanding how the speaker’s words were understood by the recipient in their time and culture, in order to discern the intended meaning. He said:

The Bible is only understood through an interpretation. When there are 1000 different interpretations then we effectively have 1000 different bibles. When you say, ‘the NT advice concerns the needs of people living in that culture in light of their knowledge’, this is false and this is not why God has given us HIS Word.”

I appreciate him stating how he interprets the Bible. I can understand better now why we are always at odds. They call it ‘reading the plain text’ ! have often heard that phrase used and I assume this is the reasoning behind justifying its use.

Language is an imprecise medium for conveying ideas and retelling events since the IMAGE formed in the mind and understanding of the listener is as varied from one listener to the next as their individual experiences of life are. So in the SMALL detail, there are actually billions of different interpretations of the Bible! Yet the PRINCIPLES of for instance, the kingdom or salvation by grace remain constant. We should not be afraid of variation in the details of understanding as long as the principle has been correctly discerned from the passage. But how is that best done?  This is where we differ.

In claiming to let the ‘plain text speak for itself’, we forget that the image formed in our mind is shaped by the experience we have in our time and culture and this then radically affects our interpretation, especially when the text is not read in the context of the whole book, the people receiving the words then, or God’s principles revealed elsewhere.

His second statement is true in the way he has stated it. I agree that it is false. Nevertheless, that is not the entire statement that those who use that sort of exegesis actually believe. We readily acknowledge that the Bible, and especially the epistles were letters TO real people in their real situations, yet their underlying principles were as relevant FOR them as they are FOR us. That is why God has given us His Word. So as to not get the PRINCIPLE wrong, it is necessary to first understand what the writer was conveying TO and was understood BY his audience at THAT time, not ours. Then we can apply it to ours. Do you see that point? It is important. It may describe something that was relevant to them at the time of writing, but it may not be meant to be prescribed for our time, for instance, slavery.

Maybe an allegory could help.

Imagine for a moment in the distant future, say the 31st century AD, no-one has eaten reindeer meat for 600 years. The reason is because in the 25th century AD  someone had uncovered a brief document written by a renowned nutritionist and the dating of it through other evidence and knowledge of the author's activities placed it somewhere in the mid to late 1980s. It was addressed to Norwegian Laplanders and forbade the consumption of their livestock's meat. There was no reason given.

The nutritionist had gained a professorship through studies of cholesterol in different red meats and its detrimental effects to health. Plain reading of the text could lead to the conclusion that this nutritionist believed that the cholesterol levels are dangerously high in reindeer meat.

After reading the document 400 years later, reindeer meat was banned from the food chain.

Someone else in the 31st century insists that there has been a mistake, since there is no substantial evidence that people have been harmed by a meat that had been eaten for millennia and there is a generally a world shortage of food. They conduct an investigation and look at the time that it was written, their location and connected events. They realize that although no reference was made to it, this ban was as a result of the reindeer eating contaminated lichen in the aftermath of Chernobyl earlier that year. To the Laplanders, living in the reality of the fallout zone, it was unnecessary to spell out the reason for this latest directive.

In 1980, was the ban misunderstood? No.

Was it justified? Yes!

In 2400 AD, is the ban misunderstood? Yes.

Is it justified? No, but continues, still.

in 3000 AD, Is the ban misunderstood? Not any longer!

Is it justified? Not any longer!

What was descriptive and prescriptive for 1980 is neither descriptive nor prescriptive for 3000 AD.

It was also not for 2014 AD either, as long as wild reindeer are slaughtered in the autumn, having rid their system of the majority of activity from Caesium 137 that they consumed through the winter grazing. Domesticated reindeer fed on ‘safe’ fodder, is actually a very nutritious meat!


I can not escape the realisation that Paul was forbidding, not the teaching by women of God’s Word, but the teaching of the cult, especially since the letter's brief to Tim was that he is to stop the teaching of false doctrines (1:3). A careful look will identify six in the letter and I feel the seventh, was so in their face that it did not need naming -- Artemis!

Hermeneutics! That's the bottom line of the Egalitarian and Complementarian divide.

An interpretation derived from reading a plain text in the light of an understanding of our time and culture, without investigating and considering theirs, is wide open to error. Since 1 Tim 2:12 is so pivotal in the divide, then both the method of interpretation and its reliability, surely has great importance, does it not?

As stated above, it is virtually impossible to read something without forming a mental image in order to interpret it, and that the image is invariably drawn from one’s own experiences. So when the word ‘teach’ is mentioned in the context of ‘church’, the image is usually one of a pulpit on a platform in an auditorium or other edifice, specifically designed to make the pulpit central. There are rows of people listening in rapt attention to one person delivering a discourse with the ‘authority’ that is associated with this exalted piece of church furniture, plus PA and visual aids if necessary. For economy of space in this article, I wish to refer the reader to another on Teaching in the First Century Church.

Complementarian theologians favour the plain text method, and may I liken the results that could be arrived at by applying their method to Mark 2:22. (It is a deliberate and preposterous exaggeration, to make the point obvious and in no way am I demeaning their intelligence.)

"And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles." (Mark 2:22, KJV)

If an unsaved environmentalist read that verse with their bias and agenda, they could conclude that a perfectly valid interpretation by plain text reading is, “God is saying that there is something inherently fragile about old glass and we should stop recycling it.”  We know that is nonsense, but they would arrive at that conclusion if they don’t employ the following points of exegetical hermeneutics. Unfortunately, to a lesser degree, this contributes to error by ‘plain text reading’, favoured by Complementarian theologians when interpreting 1 Tim 2:12.

Point 1: The Greek word was not investigated and found to mean wineskin.

‘Authentein’ was more frequently used to mean ‘perpetrate violence’ at the time Paul wrote it.

Point 2: The English meaning of the word bottle has changed.

‘Teach’ nowadays means a monologue sermon from the Bible. Then, it meant ‘teaching’ by a question and answer debate by ANYone over ANY subject. (At least 7 are listed in 1 Tim)

Point 3: It is superimposing the modern practice of bottling in glass onto the verse.

Point 4: It is superimposing the modern practice of recycling onto the verse.

Our image of church with the authoritative teaching of the word as central, has been superimposed. The credibility of the teacher and their right to do so is deemed paramount.

Point 5: No understanding of the historical practice of winemaking was considered.

No understanding of the massive influence of the cult of Artemis in the city had on the church (especially on the wives who were new converts from it), was considered.

Point 6: Spiritual symbolism was overlooked.

Far too much spiritual symbolism has been read in to it!

Point 7: Claims of divine inspiration were made on the INTERPRETATION.

The interpretation is that God forbids a woman to teach THE WORD  OF GOD to a man, since that would be taking authority over him. The question was never asked ‘what was the ‘teaching’ that Paul was forbidding’? The Word of Christ or the heresy of Artemis? The weight of evidence from the whole letter and the prevalent culture is STRONGLY in favour of the latter interpretation.

Point 8: A supposedly divinely endorsed rule was then invented.

Complementarians themselves can’t agree exactly on what rules should apply in sacred or secular spheres, but all say that the principle of women being Bible teachers of men is against God’s Word, therefore they can not be ‘pastors’.... based on interpreting Paul’s ban to be exclusively on teaching GOD’S Word.

Point 9: Consideration of clarifying scriptures elsewhere was not sought.

There are five or six places in the New Testament where the women DO teach men, three or four individual women who ARE pastors, a female apostle and another on Paul’s apostolic team who used to be a deaconess.  These are facts. They are IN the Word! Please refer to this list of sixteen other New Testament verses where women teach and lead men, for a fuller exposition.

So I ask ….. which is it to be?

The Complementarian’s INTERPRETATION of a single verse (1 Tim 2:12) or up to sixteen other New Testament verses that prove the interpretation to be faulty?