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Scripture and the Theological Enterprise: View from a Big Canoe

by Russell P. Spittler

Russell P. Spittler, Ph. D., is Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs and professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena CA 91182. His published writings include: The Church, Gospel Publishing House, 1977: The Corinthian Correspondence, Gospel Publishing House, 1976: God the Father, Gospel Publishing House, 1976; (editor) Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism, Baker Book House, 1976; Cults and Isms: Twenty Alternates to Evangelical Christianity, Baker Book House, 1962. The following was Chapter 4 in Robert K. Johnston, The Use of the Bible in Theology; Evangelical Options, John Knox Press, 1985.

Mis - sour - i (mi zoor' e) n. [<Algonquian, lit., people of the big canoes]. 1. pl.-ris, ri any member of a tribe of Indians ... from Missouri [Colloq.] not easily convinced; skeptical until shown definite proof...          -Excerpted from Webster's New World Dictionary (1970 edition)

As in medicine, theology names a whole field by one of its parts. Also as in medicine, the term "theology" has at least three distinct levels of meaning. (1) Broadly, the word designates a profession comparable to law or accounting. (2) More narrowly the term describes a systematic written presentation of religious truth for a particular group and within a specific era. (3) In its most limited sense "theology proper" (as it is sometimes called) consists of ideas about God's nature and work-often the very first topic for a treatise on systematic theology.

 "Theology" Among Pentecostals

 These nuances of the word "theology" enjoy no uniform acceptance within the Pentecostal family of churches.(1)  Indeed the term acquires, in some quarters there, a pejorative flavor, so persistent among Pentecostals is a characteristic mistrust of the formal academic enterprise. Pentecostal clergy will more naturally describe themselves as "in the ministry" than "in theology." The exploration of "theology proper," a ready activity in Pentecostal schools, more often than not will be done with the aid of systematic theologies bearing the names of authors who pre-dated the Pentecostal movement -- Charles G. Finney, Charles Hodge, W G. T. Shedd, A. H. Strong, R. A. Torrey.

But there have been a few Pentecostal efforts at publishing systematic theologies, though not very successful ones if customary academic canons are applied. The earlier ones already showed the relation of Scripture to theology in Pentecostal practice: such works were simple, uncritical explanations of biblical teaching for recent converts and for new but untrained ministers. Scriptural references interlaced expository paragraphs as documentation for biblical ideas described. Engagement with contemporary exegetical or theological literature was rare.

The exemplar of Pentecostal systematic theologies was authored by Myer Pearlman, an early Pentecostal writer who flourished in the 1930s and 1940s and who, as a Jewish youth, had studied Hebrew in the synagogue. In use continuously for nearly a half century, Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible is subtly competent in its conception though simple in language.(2)  It has been translated into Spanish and several other languages, and the volume finds wide use by Pentecostal missionaries in the task of training national ministers for evangelism. Within the Pentecostal movement no volume has rivaled the. influence of Myer Pearlman's doctrinal handbook.

In other words, the most widely used "systematic theology" in the Assemblies of God-if use of the term applied to that book be permitted-has an instrumental, missionary function. Biblical understanding is held to be subordinate to and necessary for the preaching of the gospel. So far as any published "systematic theology" is concerned, a self-conscious effort to frame religious truth for the Pentecostal tradition within its own time and space something even remotely comparable to Donald Gelpi's work for Roman Catholic charismatics, not to mention Karl Barth's magisterial Church Dogmatics for the Reformed tradition - there simply is no such Pentecostal theology.(3)  Even the interest to produce such a work has barely surfaced .(4)

Hence in the Pentecostal tradition doctrine appears more readily than theology. And doctrine is viewed as assumed and given (or received), not really subject to elaboration or helped by periodic restatement. When two major classical Pentecostal bodies in the past dozen years established graduate theological schools, both avoided the term "theological seminary." The Assemblies of God Graduate School in Springfield, Missouri, was established in 1972. The Church of God School of Theology in Cleveland, Tennessee, began in I975. That no similar limitation beset the Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary, established in 1979 by the Church of God in Christ (largest of the dominantly Black classical Pentecostal bodies), can be attributed to the circumstances of its origin as part of Atlanta's Interdenominational Theological Center-a cluster of schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.

 Formative Churchly Influences

Interestingly enough, not "theology proper" but a statement on Scripture appears as the first item in the formal doctrinal statement of the Assemblies of God (AG). Here is the language of the opening point in the Statement of Fundamental Truths as it read when, as a late teenager in the early 1950s, I first began the study of theology:

  I. The Scriptures Inspired.

The Bible is the inspired Word of God, a revelation from God to man, the infallible rule of faith and conduct, and is superior to conscience and reason, but not contrary to reason. 2 Tim. 3:16 - 17: 1 Pet. 2:2.

The statement accords with the faith of most conservative Protestants: it reflects a fairly traditional Reformation outlook. I include it here not only to show the character of a revision made in the early ig6os (discussed below) but also to report the earliest influence-so far as theological statements are concerned-in my own theological formation. It was under this Statement, under all sixteen items of the Statement, that I was ordained in 1961 as a minister of the AG. I continue to serve gratefully as a member of the clergy of that body.

Later in 1961, the "Statement of Fundamental Truths" underwent its only major revision since it was framed originally in 1916. And not very major, at that. Following World War II, Pentecostals developed a thriving friendship with the emerging "New Evangelicals" - a welcome recast of souring pre-war Fundamentalism-in which strong roles were played by persons like Harold Ockenga and Billy Graham and by institutions like Christianity Today, Fuller Theological Seminary, and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).(5)

It was not long till the Assemblies of God became the largest member church in the NAE. Not surprisingly, Thomas F. Zimmerman , head of the AG from I957 to date, in 1960 became the elected president of the NAE. And in the next year the AG doctrinal statement was changed.(6)

Here is a fascinating chapter in the history of evolving doctrinal statements. It was, I think, exactly this warming courtship of the Pentecostals and the evangelicals - I haven't decided who was courting whom - that led to what might be called the evangelicalization of the AG doctrinal statement.(7) In 1916 when the Statement was drafted, no one had thought to include statements about Jesus which were assumed by all: his virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and exaltation to God's right hand. (Informed readers will recognize the echoes of The Fundamentals.) No matter: a wholly new point, "The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ," would be added. Not to suggest any major alteration to the structure of the Statement, two points in the then-existing Statement (#5, Baptism in Water; #6, The Lord's Supper) were grouped as one in the 1916 Statement (#6, "The Ordinances of the Church: a. Baptism in Water; b. Holy Communion"), thus preserving the overall total of sixteen points.(8)

But more. The phrase in vogue at the time within evangelical discussions regarding the doctrine of Scripture was the term verbal inspiration." The 1961 changes made to the Statement of Fundamental Truths yielded the following revised form of the point quoted earlier:

  The Scriptures Inspired

    'The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible,authoritative rule of faith and conduct (2 Tim. 3:15-17; I Thess. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:21).

That is the way the Statement now reads. I especially lament the loss of the earlier line, ". . - superior to conscience and reason, but not contrary to reason." But there have been still other developments.

As a theological slogan, "verbal inspiration" of the 1950s seems to have been displaced by "inerrancy" since the 1970s. Some years before Harold Lindsell triggered The Battle for the Bible in 1976(9) by arguing that inerrancy is the hallmark of evangelicalism, the AG published in 1970 an official position paper bearing the title "the Inerrancy of the Scriptures."(10)  While this "Position paper" (and others since issued) does not hold the constitutional status of the Statement of Fundamental Truths approved by the AGs highest body, the biennial General Council in session (typically four to nine thousand voters), the paper does bear the approval of the (roughly two hundred man - no women) General and Executive Presbyteries all of whom are elected by General Council membership.

Thus the formal church statements under which I work, and to which I commit, express a major feature of my own approach to theological work: I believe that the Bible (Protestant canon) is the Word of God in written form, and that it may properly be described as authoritative, infallible, verbally inspired, and inerrant in what it teaches. Those adjectives I have arranged in descending order of appropriateness. Were I to write my own doctrine of Scripture, I would emphasize qualities of potency, effectuality, and sufficiency.

The question of "errors" in Scripture is a volatile one and not one I can treat very fully here. All too easily among professional users of Scripture - ecclesiastics and academics - the phenomena actually present on a page of biblical text cannot or will not be discussed without a prior salute to one or another of the prevailing reductionist shibboleths about the Bible. Some of my former pastors, all of whom were not schooled men, sidestepped my early, honest questions about the biblical text. At a crucial age I was left wondering if no answers given meant no answers possible. Some fellow members of ministerial credential committees reviewing young candidates for the Pentecostal ministry, sought (to my embarrassment) not how these youths thought of the biblical text but whether the incriminating sibilant could be heard when the speech of the clergy applicants got to be a creedal shibboleth. Such theological hopscotching is no mere handicraft of conservatives. Some of my very freed-up university teachers could not be led to allow the possibility of miracle and interruption in natural law. For them-indeed for us all-it is all too easy to conclude truth from habit. It requires, in the end, a grand work of the Holy Spirit to dredge from the dogged channels of our minds the waste quietly expelled for decades into the flowing stream by those very shore establishments whose useful products have made us what we are. Such dredging the Apostle Paul called the renewal of the mind (Rom. I2:2,).

So I cannot speak of "errors" until I reach agreement with my discussants about the ground rules. Meanwhile, one clue to the future discussion. Among my books sits an inexpensive red letter edition of the King James Version of the Bible. For use in Christian work at a women's s reform school in Elgin, Illinois, while we were Wheaton students in the late 1950s, my wife and I bought up a dozen or so of them at the bargain price of $1.60 each.

I now know why those Bibles were so cheap. If you were sitting nearby, I could show you Pg. 95 in the New Testament of this Bible. There appears Acts 7:18-19, Stephen's words about Pharaoh, "another king ... which knew not Joseph. The same dealt subtly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers..." But the pronoun in the phrase "our fathers" as printed in this Bible is spelled - rather misspelled! - "out fathers."

An "error"? "Merely a misprint," one will say. All right, call it what you will. But acknowledge that here is one specific, particular Bible - "The Bible," after all, only exists as various Bibles here and there-in whose printed text there is something awry. You may say it's easily explained. And I will say it is indeed, and there are many similar explicable irregularities in three millennia of the copying and recopying of thousands of biblical manuscripts. It is not the precision of philology but the politics of rhetoric that controls the choice of terms to describe such phenomena in the biblical text. I deplore such pollution in the environment of Christian discourse.

I am not among those who, for anterior philosophical reasons, will conclude from such alleged "errors" that the Bible cannot be taken seriously as having any warranted religious authority. Neither am I among those who insist that the adjective "inerrant" is not only the best but also the watershed qualifier for evangelical orthodoxy.

As for the current intra-evangelical debate about Scripture, I will say only that inerrancy with the needed footnotes weighs in about the same as naked infallibility," or so it seems to me.

 The Impact of Schools


Not only my church but also my schools have shaped my style of theologizing and my stance toward Scripture. My first schooling after high school (where, half-way through, I switched to a vocational high school to follow a life-long interest in electronics) consisted of three years in a then unaccredited, three-year Bible Institute operated by churches of the AG in the Southeast.(12)  To this day, considering the impact of my several schools, it would be the last whose influence I would surrender. A lot of what is today called spiritual formation happened there, though we didn't call it that. There I experienced Pentecostal community and formed values my readers will readily detect.

The Bible Institute I attended had an arrangement in those days (early 1950s) with Florida Southern College, an accredited Methodist school in the same city, permitting transfer of its three years straight across in order to complete an accredited baccalaureate for a fourth year's work. The major impact of Florida Southern upon me was the experience of its magnificent Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. (Sitting one day in the library of his design, I saw and then heard a student unwittingly stride directly into a deck-to-ceiling glass panel. The next day, at the offending place, a sticker reading "Give to the United Fund" appeared at a prudent altitude.) Since nearly all of my Bible Institute work was in religion and I needed general education subjects for graduation, I hold a baccalaureate in religion from a college at which I did not take a single course in the field.

But at Wheaton College (Illinois) Graduate School scales fell from my eyes: I discovered history. (13)  Earlier, in the Bible Institute, we had ticked off the biblical books in canonical order. Today, Matthew, twenty-eight chapters; key verse, Matthew 28:19; date, sixth decade; author, the tax collector; outline, such and such. "For our next class session, please read the Gospel of Mark," and so on.

But at Wheaton, I discovered that Scripture had not dropped from heaven as a sacred meteor that arrived intact. I learned (and should have known much earlier) that the books of the Bible grew from the soil of fervent Christian activity in a real though long-ago world, that literature is a centrifugal spin-off of history. I didn't yet see all the implications of that insight, but it was like being born again, again. More later about its methodological significance.

What happened, in fact, exemplifies the perspicacity of Professor Grant Wacker's analysis of what he calls "The Texture of Pentecostal Faith." Following Mircea Eliade and some others, Professor Wacker shows that "the distinctive theological ideas pentecostals lived for and fought about invariably reflected one of the central features of folk religion: ahistoricism."(14)  I had discovered historicalness, and I would never be the same again.

Enough time was spent at Wheaton taking courses beyond the M.A. to allow, within a year, completion of the seminary degree (B.D. in my day) at Gordon Divinity School (now Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, north of Boston). The year there (1957/8) was demanding though fragmentary: I was scrambling for those "requireds" which now and again interfere with one's education. But there I learned that the church, too, had a history.

My first years of teaching were in the (AG) Central Bible Institute (now of course, Central Bible College) in Springfield, Missouri. Invigorating encounter with the students and a few graduate courses at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (in the pre-Seminex days) confirmed an inclination to teach. After four years of teaching my family and I were off to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for doctoral work in New Testament.

For this essay, a word about the choice of field for graduate study is relevant. A generalist at heart and a newborn historian, I would have settled for a broad program in religion and a thesis somewhere in modern American intellectual religious history. But I had no major in history and few courses of relevance. As I assayed my rather narrow and repetitive background, it looked as if I were best qualified in the field of New Testament. So there I applied, and there I was accepted, actually graduating in 1971.

It is still true at Harvard that one speaks, not of the field of "New Testament," but of "Christian Origins." History again. Interest flourished in the environment out of which the New Testament emerged, and that led to a high interest in background studies. My first graduate seminar dealt with the book of First Enoch. I studied with professors who served on the international team editing the Dead Sea Scrolls-Frank Cross and John Strugnell (who also was my thesis mentor). We used to say we didn't need to go to Europe to study. Rather, Europe came to us: Helmut Koester and Dieter Georgi (German), Krister Stendahl (Swede), John Strugner and Arthur Darby Nock (Britishers), and, as a visiting professor, Gilles Quispel (Dutch). The Israeli archaeologist, Nachman Avigad, was also a visiting professor and one of my doctoral examiners.

There were no required courses at Harvard, and I benefited mostly from the lectures (and sometimes, example) mainly of Krister Stendahl in New Testament and Richard R. Niebuhr in Theology. My thesis consisted of an introduction, translation, and notes for the Testament of Job, a minor Jewish work about as long as the New Testament book of Romans and written in Greek in the first century B.C. or A.D. This curious document has the daughters of Job speaking in the language of the angels (Test. Job 48-50), so its appeal to a classical Pentecostal is understandable.

Once or twice my Harvard teachers lightly groused about my choice of research outside the text of the New Testament. They worried about conservatives who "evaded critical issues" by working in various Hellenistic exotica. I suppose they were justified. In my studies till then I had encountered no real sympathetic introduction to the use of the modem critical methodology. And in the end I have never been able to give myself, body and soul, to the approach as if it were the sole avenue of truth. To what extent I have absorbed the method should carefully be described, and I shall come to that.

My point in these pages has been that, so far as I can tell, my church and its teaching on Scripture have been the primary influences in my approach to theology. Though some of my fellow church folk may wonder that it could be so, I must affirm that it is my belief in the authority of Scripture which led me to the schools I attended, to the beliefs I cherish, to the ministry of teaching I enjoy, to the theological method I apply. From my commitment to the formative, first item in the AG Statement of Fundamental Truths, all else flows-even the risk of being thought to mispronounce the later points. The Word of God is indeed a two-edged sword and, as Paul said, "We cannot do anything against the truth" (2 Cor. 13:8).

 A Theological Sample

The effect of my churchly and academic influences has been to make me primarily an exegete. I understand myself to be a student of and a listener to the Word of God. It is enough if, reading carefully, I can hear the word of Him whose voice I know. I used to tell my students that my hair was not the right color to be a systematic theologian. Now the emerging gray gives little hope - long since abandoned anyway - that I would function as a systematician. I am an exegete en route, not enthroned.

What follows therefore is a sample piece of my style of "theology." You'd have to call it exegetical theology, I suppose. I propose to present at some length an interpretation-an exegesis of I Corinthians 11:2-16. That will be followed by an analysis of the character of the exegesis against my background just sketched. The result should fulfill the purpose of this paper-an account of how one Pentecostal uses Scripture in the theological enterprises.(15).

Custom-breaking at Corinth: I Corinthians 11:2-16

Surely, more is known about the church at Corinth than about any other New Testament assembly of Christians. Besides the two letters of Paul addressed to the Christians at Corinth along with the full account in Acts i8 of the origin of the church,' both Romans 1:18-32, and I Thessalonians 5:19-22 reflect probable composition of those letters at Corinth as well. Corinthian congregational fission reappears at the end of the first century in First Clement 45-47, and the catalogue of New Testament Apocrypha includes Third Corinthians, the "Apocalypse of Paul," and even a modern and useless apocryphon called the "Epistle of Kallikrates." Moreover, the site of Corinth has undergone excavation for over a century. The archaeological reports rival, in shelf space occupied, the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here is a Pauline church which also knew the oratory of Apollos, the medical skill of Luke, the preaching of Peter (perhaps), the timidity of Timothy, the hospitality of Priscilla and Aquila, the municipal office of Erastus, the conversions of Stephanas and Sosthenes, the ministry of Phoebe - to say nothing of other named Christians whose lives touched Corinth in untold ways: Silas, Titius Justus, Crispus, Gaius, as well the traveling trio of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus.

So far as the biblical record recounts, the Apostle spent more time at Corinth-eighteen months 'than anywhere else, except at Ephesus. The church at Corinth, despite the Apostle's tutelage, fell into behaviors that would depress, if not destroy, any modern pastor. Among the disorders clear from a reading of First Corinthians are congregational disunity, ministerial favoritism, sexual laxity, incest, litigiousness, overdone marital asceticism, spiritual elitism, pneumatic individualism, sacramental and charismatic abuse, theological heresy, even unfilled financial pledges.


  First Corinthians arose when the -concerned founder-pastor wrote in response to reports about (I Cor.1:11; 5:1; 11:18) and queries from ( 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1, 16:1, 12; all verses where the Apostle uses the phrase "now concerning" to bring up a new subject) a charismatic Christian community approaching crisis. It does well for the interpretation of the letter to accept Professor F. F. Bruce's guess that the arrival of Corinthian friends with additional news and a letter from Corinth led the Apostle, who had already written 1-4, to the specific interests addressed in I Corinthians 5 - 16.(16)

One of those interests lay in the effort of some of the women at Corinth to discontinue use of the veil-the subject of I Corinthians I Corinthians 11:2 - 16. But it aids the interpretation of the passage to recognize that 11:2 - 14:39 as a whole deals with aspects of community worship: use of the veil in female prayer or prophecy (11:2-16); proper conduct at the Lord's Supper (11:17-34); spiritual gifts (12-14).

Surprisingly, neither the issue of head covering here (11:2-16) nor the treatment of resurrection (Chap. 15) are introduced by the recurring phrase "now concerning." It appears the Apostle wanted to address a practice at Corinth not among those about which the Corinthians had inquired. So he used a strategy of commendation: "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you." The italicized phrases, as the commentators suggest, may well have been taken directly from the letter brought from the Corinthians to Paul (7:1). But these quoted words will be bent back upon the Corinthians.

That "commend" is the strong word in the sentence is argued, too, from its reappearance at II: 17 where Paul takes up the next topic - misuse of the Lord's Supper. "But in the following instructions I do not commend you........."

The flow of thought seems clear; the Corinthians should imitate Paul's example of living in the service of God and others, even at the forfeiture of personal rights (10:31 - 11:1). Speaking of imitation, claimed regard for the traditions of Paul is breached by the behavior of some at Corinth who disregard his characteristic teachings (11:2-16). Nor does their sacramental frivolity warrant praise for loyalty (11:17 - 34). And these are but samples: "About the other things I will give directions when I come" (11:34b) -- one of the truly astonishing lines in First Corinthians.

No unanimity flourishes among interpreters as to exactly what practice here draws the Apostle's attention. Despite English translations the actual word "veil," in fact, nowhere occurs in the underlying Greek of the passage even though it is within the Apostle's vocabulary, (2 Cor. 3:12-18). Most commonly conceived is female use of an oriental veil when praying or prophesying. But it could be (as the NIV notes) a preference among some Corinthian women for short hair, contrary to the customary long hair for women. Since Greek used the words here translated "man" and "woman" also for "husband" and "wife," neither is it clear whether Paul limits his language to women as females or as wives. Finally, even if a veil is assumed, it cannot be determined which of several types known from Hellenistic art may be in view.

Fortunately, the major point of the passage does not vary with these cultural details: the Corinthians should not so readily disregard customary liturgical dress, if indeed, as they claimed, they "maintain the traditions" gotten from Paul.(17)

Structure and Interpretation

I find in I Corinthians 11:2 - 16 a series of six arguments listed by the Apostle in his effort to quell a trend toward the eradication of difference in dress at corporate worship. Certain Corinthians, it appears, sought to bring to social visibility a theological anthropology which anticipated the eschatological elimination of sexual difference. Paul himself was wont to teach that there is "neither male nor female" in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Some of his disciples at Corinth (likely the "Christ party") viewed themselves as endowed with a special insight - the conviction that their experience of the Spirit thrust them into identification with the risen Lord in heaven. As a result, the future was absorbed into the present-furnishing theological motivation to act as if the eschaton had arrived. Hence, no need for distinguishing women from men. No need to have, especially so at corporate worship, any head-wise distinction in dress between men and women.

The same underlying theology, often called incipient gnosticism, explains Corinthian immorality (viewing fornication as immoral attests ignorance of the freeing power of insight), asceticism (mundane behavior should reflect the ethic of the eschaton), denial of the resurrection (lofty spiritual experience is itself the resurrection, which is thus "already past" - cf. 2 Tim. 2:18), and virtually all Corinthian deviations.

To oppose the effort Paul mounts six arguments which seem more significant in their cumulative effect than convincing in their logical compulsion. Here are the arguments.

(1) Creation (11:3-6). A natural order exists, the Apostle affirms, in which "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." The order given does not follow a top-down (or bottom-up) hierarchy. But husband, wife (I think the Apostle here views men and women in their usual social roles), and Christ all have their respective "head" - which has more the quality of "source" than of "supervisor" though both meanings are possible. Even "source" implies, in the end, some degree of control. Though the legitimacy of the distinction is contested, administrative subordination need not-and in many daily social contracts does not-imply essential inferiority.

The Apostle seems to say here that there is a certain social taxonomy wherein each has a role. If the argument seems not overwhelmingly convincing, that introduces a feature of this section: the reader who follows along down the list of arguments increasingly gets the feeling Paul is not making his point well.

(2) Scripture (11:7-9, 11-12). Genesis 1:27 and 2:20-23, familiar to the Rabbi of Tarsus, lie in the background of 11:7-9 A rabbinic hermeneutic concludes the social priority of the husband from the temporal precedence of Adam. Yet in 11:11-12 Paul urges, by an ingenious reversal, the mutuality expected from his comments in I Cor. 7 and more characteristic of the Apostle's own domestic design.

(3) Angels (11:10). This is a difficult passage. At least since Tertullian it has been explained in the light of Genesis 6:1-4 as a caution against presenting sexual temptation, by inappropriate dress, to angels.

More recently, several commentators have suggested a different interpretation in view of ideas about angels expressed in the Dead Sea Scrolls, There, the sectarian militants are cheered in the War Scroll (IQM vii.6; xii; 4; xix. 1) by the assurance that the angels will fight on their side in the final apocalyptic war. In the community guidelines (IQSa ii.3b-10), maimed or scarred persons are excluded from the high level councils of the sect because they may offend the angels, perfect creatures of God, who also attend the councils. Hence, Paul may here be urging proper communal behavior so as not to offend, by social impropriety, the angels before whom Christian lives unfold.

 (4) Propriety (11: 13). The Apostle invites their own estimate: can it be right "for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?" This ad hoc appeal blends into the next argument where, however, the ground shifts.

 (5) Nature (11:14-15). The appeal to the natural order raises unsolvable queries about physiological differences between men and women regarding the average length and rate of growth of hair. The statement is not intended to give scientific precision, but it restates the argument from propriety, this time appealing to things as they are - "nature." Once again the logic may appear less than compelling - exactly so, which leads to the next, last, and by far, most decisive argument.

 (6) Tradition (11:14-15). "If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God." This statement flatly ends the discussion. It is really no argument at all, just an announced refusal to attend to any arguments.

My sense is that Paul, at the outset of this literary unit, was uneasy about his grounds on which to discourage the custom breaking going on at Corinth. That led to a rapid-fire array of arguments, those just listed, some looking rather farfetched, which separately or together do not overwhelmingly make the point. So in the end he stops mounting arguments and simply declares, to put it baldly, "This is the way we do things around here."

The word translated "practice" (or custom) echoes the "traditions" of 11:2 and 11:17. The only other Pauline occurrence of the term speaks of former idolators who were "hitherto accustomed to idols" (8:7). The only other use of the term elsewhere in the New Testament is quite illustrative: the Jews had a custom of releasing one prisoner at Passover (John 18:39). In view in all cases is a habitual group behavior.

Thus the passage opens shrewdly by commending the Corinthians for their own claimed recollection of and adherence to Paul's traditions. It doses on the same note-an appeal to custom whose characteristic Corinthian fracture leads on in the next verse (11: 17) to another example of custom-breaking (misuse of the Lord's Supper).

Reference to existing practice in the churches surfaces elsewhere in First Corinthians. The phrase "in (all) the churches" occurs twice in I Corinthians I4:33-34 where Paul appeals to churchly custom in support of balancing charismatic ardor and liturgical order. His regular practice as an apostle yields the counsel of contentment with whatever life the Lord assigns: "This is my rule in all the churches" (7:17). Paul writes that when Timothy returns to Corinth "he will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church" (4:17; author's translation). Reference to a concordance will show Paul to be no stranger to tradition and custom as a guideline for church behavior.(18)


  Tradition, Scripture teaches, is a proper source of religious authority. I conclude that from I Corinthians 11:16. As a theological statement that sentence is explosive but true, for the Bible teaches it.

A helpful context for issues of religious authority is given in James Packer's book "Fundamentalism' and the Word of God.(19)  The first question in matters religious (maybe the second: the first queries are always epistemological) is: What constitutes ultimate religious authority? Upon answers to that query are built the major world religions - minor ones too, down to the last storefront cult.

Three common responses are given, as Professor Packer shows: Scripture; tradition; and reason. Biblical authority is the hallmark of the Protestant Reformation. The priority and superiority of churchly teaching-tradition-marks specially the Roman Catholic heritage. The modem era has witnessed a topphng of any external authority, Bible or Pope, and the elevation of human reason as the ultimate religious authority. Theological liberalism thus emerged in the church, a movement honoring neither Protestant nor Catholic boundaries. Of course, a little of each --  Scripture, tradition, reason -- affects the others. But the generalizations apply.

Given my own commitments to the primacy of Scripture over tradition or reason, you can imagine my surprise, as a cautious and, hopefully, careful exegete, to discover in the Scripture that tradition has authority. I expressed that surprise once when addressing a group of Navy chaplains who represented the three major faiths. Remarked a Catholic priest in subsequent discussion, "You should not be too surprised; many of us who are Roman Catholic priests are also rediscovering the Bible and its authority."

Some of Jesus' hardest words were directed at religious leaders who had higher regard for traditions than for the Word of God (Matt. 15:6, e.g.). That is the peril of tradition, its penchant to displace the Word of God. Yet this same Jesus displayed a critical loyalty toward his own heritage by never leaving the synagogue.

How far is tradition valid? It is valid, on an evangelical understanding, only where it does not violate the teaching of Scripture. Conclusions for personal and church behavior are far reaching. If tradition may specify limits to community action within biblical norms, then tolerance should emerge among Christian groups whose group customs-say, the weekly day of worship-may oppose each other and yet lie within biblical standards. If tradition is valid, some practices biblically permissible - the use of wine, to pick an example sure to be contested - would be relinquished voluntarily by "enlightened" members of a Christian group in which a custom exists that outbibles the Bible. (No one should worry that sects are usually lopsidedly excessive; in the overall growth of the church those excesses are often quick repairs to damage caused by accumulated neglect.)

If tradition is valid, the really major issue surrounds the role of tradition in the formation of Scripture itself Endlessly debated in ecumenical dialogues, tradition impacts Scripture at the point of its canonical margins. Frankly, I am surprised at the eclipse of canon within contemporary intra-evangelical debate over Scripture. Banners of "inerrant" or "infallible," descriptions of Scripture as verbally inspired, plenarily inspired, or just plain "inspired," even denials or critiques of any of those qualifiers - all are statements about the nature of Scripture; left untreated is the extent of Scripture.

"All scripture," sure enough, "is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:i6). The question is: which books are to be so regarded? The most conservative dating of New Testament writings would leave other New Testament books yet to be written if Paul writes these words in the mid-60s. Even if a second-century dating is assigned to First Timothy, exegetical outcomes would note that the "Scripture" here mentioned was that familiar to Timothy as a child-surely the Old Testament, but not certainly all thirty-nine books as we know the Old Testament.

I am not much helped to hear James Packer say that "the Church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity."(20)  "Inspired" is the language of faith, the testimony of a believer. The extent of the canon is a matter of historical evidence, which so far yields a date of A.D. 367 (in the thirty-ninth Easter letter of Athanasius of Alexandria) as the earliest possible date by which any affirmation at all could be applied to a sixty-six book Bible. That means, among other things, that not only the apostolic church described in Acts but also the church of the second and third centuries knew of no "Bible" precisely ("infallibly" or "inerrantly"!) corresponding to ours. And if we value exactitude in discussions about the Bible, we had better speak exactly of a sixty-six book canon.

As an outcome I am driven to value the role of tradition on the human side of the formation of the Bible. By that I mean that I now recognize that, however inspired the texts of Scripture are, they got that way from an external, historical viewpoint in the lap of the church. I am guided by the suggestion of the Old Princeton theologian, B. B. Warfield, to the effect that if we had a right doctrine of providence, we should not need a theory of inspiration. What some call the role of tradition in the formation of the Bible I prefer to describe as the gracious gift of God in sovereign control of human affairs so as to result in the Bible-the Word of God written. Neither the human nor the divine aspect of the Written Word, as with the living Word, Jesus himself, may be neglected in any full appreciation of the Word of God among us.

 Analysis of the Theological Sample

 Contemplation of the mix of Pentecostal heritage, evangelical training, and the graduate school context of my own work leads to the several generalizations about the use of Scripture in theology among contemporary classical Pentecostals. It is important to observe that these comments do not necessarily apply to charismatic scholars who, though they may share with Pentecostals certain values of spiritual evidence, emerge for the most part from mainstream Protestant backgrounds where there is generally a more positive evaluation of the academic enterprise. And I must state also that I speak for myself only and not in any official or representative sense.

 (1)  Most characteristic of the use of Scripture in the Pentecostal heritage is a simple, natural, and revered, though often ahistorical, use of the words of Scripture both in the nourishment of personal piety and in setting a mandate for evangelism as the chief agenda for the church .21 1 speak primarily of the use of Scripture among lay persons, but Pentecostal clergy for the most part are lay people who quit their jobs. They reflect a lay level of biblical education. Though educational interests are rising among Pentecostals and something of an indiscriminate stampede is on for a doctorate of any quality, my own church's constitutional documents are typical. Twice therein occurs the statement, "Any certain extent of academic education shall never be a requirement for credentials. . . ." (22)  While there is always more to learn for any student of Scripture, however brilliant or trained, I am not at all prepared to say that such simple pietistic use of Scripture is defective; it is not so much wrong as limited.

(2) Discovery of the historical character of revelation together with deepening skills in exegesis, which is merely the historical treatment of texts, yields an exciting rediscovery of the worth, the relevance, and the majesty of Scripture. Advances in lexicography and archaeology have put us in a place to know more about the ancient world than it knew about itself As an exegete I know no higher moment than the dawn of truth rising from the meticulous application of linguistic and other historical study. The outcomes of exegesis have virtually changed my life and fashioned my thought and values. Were it required of me to surrender my past training, my abilities to work in the Greek text of the New Testament would be the last to go.

 (3) I have no illusion that unaided history is ultimate, any more than is uninformed piety. Exegesis puts one into the vestibule of truth; the Holy Spirit opens the inner door. For this reason I find myself as a Christian teacher, primarily concerned to link subjective piety with scientific (historic) objectivity. History and piety form the foci of the ellipse embracing Christian inquiry. I must ask historical (and therefore linguistic, archaeological) questions, not acting as if the Scripture was sent to me alone or to my tradition only. But I must also ask a utilitarian, pietistic question: how does God speak to me and to my communities (family, school, local church, denomination) through this text?

The interest of the university lies in history (legitimate). The interest of the Bible school lies in piety (also legitimate). The invitation to Christian scholarship consists in the balanced blend of both. The university may neglect piety. The Bible school may slight history. I shall have both. As a workplace for that quest, I could ask for no better environment than a graduate school committed to freedom and excellence (those twin virtues of the university) yet giving place to piety through the limited pluralism of a clear-voiced evangelicalism.(23)

(4) I am quite prepared to confess unresolved tensions in the methodological mix of history and piety. Historical method in New Testament exegesis means the use of the historical-critical method. I have reached a formulaic conclusion: the historicalcritical method, when applied to Scripture, is both legitimate and necessary, but inadequate.

It is legitimate, because history is the sphere of God's dealings with the world and the stage of revelation. It is necessary, but not for Christian seniors in the rest home nor for Sunday School children who sing rather than read their theology. Rather, it is necessary in order to milk from Scripture the revealed truth it provides.

But it is inadequate, because - and here my Pentecostal heritage shows - the end of biblical study cannot consist alone in historical dates or tentative judgments about complicated and conjectured literary origins. The end of biblical study consists rather in enhanced faith, hope, and love for both the individual and the community. The historical-critical method is inadequate, in other words, because it does not address piety. (24)

(5) The theological sample provided earlier demonstrates these values. That the text comes from First Corinthians does not only reflect the predictable interests of a Pentecostal. That book of the Apostle also enjoys comparatively few critical (that is, historical) uncertainties. Its Pauline authorship is these days not seriously doubted; its date of composition is more clearly determined than perhaps any other book of the New Testament; the origin of the church is recounted in Acts; the geographic site of Corinth is known and excavated; the integrity of the text is not widely challenged; text-critical uncertainties are few. These comfortable conclusions of the consensus in critical assessment of First Corinthians no doubt played a large role in attracting me to that text.

I have made no comparable major study of any one of the Gospels not merely because of the limits of time and the demands of administration. The outcomes of critical inquiry into the Gospels have reached far less unanimity, and in truth I am not well-equipped to manage the conclusion that this or that saying of Jesus in the Gospels was rather a contrivance of the early church. Let me be clear: without the extensive personal study in the Gospels to the level I would require of myself before offering a studied opinion, I am prepared to allow that early Christians spoke in the Lord's name under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, just as happens in certain instances today among charismatic communities. But I do not find piety well served by such historical inconclusiveness and therefore I gravitate to where the certainties are higher. After all, love (piety), not knowledge (history), counts most in the end (I Cor. 8:1b).

Or so it appears to one member of the Springfield, Missouri, tribe . . . one not easily convinced . . . one of the "people of the big canoes."(25)



 1. For a compact but very able exposition of the classical Pentecostal churches in the Urited States, no better source can be named than Grant Wacker, "A Profile of American Pentecostalism," to appear in a forthcoming volume to be edited by Timothy L. Smith et al., tentatively entitled The American Evangelical Mosaic. This interpretive essay sets the emergence of American Pentecostalism in its historical context and outranks the numerous cliched histories by providing a penetrating analysis of the essence of Pentecostal piety-an aspect often overlooked or distorted.

2.  Myer Pearlman, Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1937). Though he is careful to credit by name the few quotations used, Myer Pearlman uses no footnotes. Nor does there appear any bibliography or list of books for further reading.

3. Donald Gelpi, Experiencing God: A Theology ofhuman Experience (New York: Paulist Press, 1978).

4. There are several more recent doctrinal writings by classical Pentecostals. Ray Pruitt of the Church of God of Prophecy provided The Fundamentals of Faith (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing House, 1981). For the Pentecostal Free Will Baptists, Ned Sauls wrote Pentecostal Doctrines: A Wesleyan Approach (Dunn, NC: Heritage Press, (1979). These are denominationally focused doctrinal handbooks. The name of a former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, Ernest S. Williams, appears on a three-volume set titled Systematic Theology (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1953). The contents in fact were edited by a fellow teacher, Frank Boyd, from class lecture notes used by Mr. Williams in a course of that title offered at Central Bible Institute (name changed to Central Bible College in the niid-ig6os) during the early and middle 1950s.. Basic theological studies, from which are likely to emerge less parochial theological statements, have come from younger scholars associated with the Society for Pentecostal Studies (135 North Oakland Avenue, Pasadena, CA, 91101. These include Harold D. Hunter's 1979 Fuller Seminary Ph. D. thesis now revised and published as Spirit-Baptism: A Pentecostal Alternative (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983).

5. Details passim in Richard Quebedeaux's three volumes (all New York: Harper and Row): The Young Evangelicals (1974), The Worldly Evangelicals (I978), and The New Charismatics II (1983 [I976]). James DeForest Munch's history ofthe NAE, Cooperation Without Compromise (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), carries the story only through the mid 1950s.

6.  It was this same period when, in 1961, AG minister David J. du Plessis was asked to cease his developing ministries among churches aligned with the NCC and WCC -- no doubt an embarrassment to the NAE at a time when du Plessis' denominational chief executive was serving as the NAE's elected head. Because he declined to discontinue such associations, du Plessis was divested of his AG ministerial credentials in 1961, an action reversed twenty years later.

7. Two articles by Gerald T. Sheppard provide greater detail: "Biblical Hermeneutics: The Academic Language of Evangelical Identity," Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 32 (Winter I977), 81-94; "Word and Spirit: Scripture in the Pentecostal Tradition: Part One," Agora: A Magazine of Opinion within the Assemblies of God [no longer published], I, No. 4 (Spring 1978), 4-22; and ". . . Part Two," 2, No. I (Summer I978), 14-15. Gordon Fee reminds me that the same 1961 change in the doctrinal statement deleted "entire" from the point treating sanctification-evangelicalization at the expense of distancing from holiness roots.

8. In fact, the original 1916 form of the Statement of Fundamental Truths contained seventeen points. What was then listed as item thirteen, "The Essentials as to the Godhead," was by 1933 placed under point two, "The One True God"-resulting in the sixteen-point Statement which has been usual ever since. Between 1917 and 1925 "combined" copies of the Minutes with those reaching back - to 1914 were published. The identification and publication of the actual Minutes as produced at the successive early General Council is a complicated but urgent task.

9. Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976).

10. The Pentecostal Evangel, No. 2932 July 19, 1970), 6-9. Through years of mutual involvement in the NAB, Thomas Zimmerman and Harold Lindsey have long been acquainted.

11. The literature on the recent phase (1970 onward) of evangelical thought on Scripture is abundant and increasing. The issues are delineated in Robert K. johnston's volume Evangelicals at an Impasse: Biblical Authority in Practice (Atlanta: John Ynox Press, I979), esp. chap. 2, "The Debate over Inspiration: Scripture as Reliable, Inerrant, or Infallible?" pp. 15-47. Publication in I979 of Jack Rogers' and Donald McKim's volume, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (San Francisco: Harper and Row), awakened renewed discussion, evoking a critique by John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the RogersIMcKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).

12. Originally South-Eastern [sic] Bible Institute-"SEBI" in my day the school has exemplified a predictable development pattern, becoming South-Eastern Bible College (four-year) in 1957 and shifting to a now regionally accredited Southeastern College ("of the Assemblies of God") in 1977. The school is located in Lakeland, Florida. I entered in September 1950 and graduated in June 1953. Enrollment in my day never exceeded one hundred and eighty.

13. To this day I have not yet had a course in "Western Civilization," or the like, though I think it and English composition are the most important undergraduate courses.

14. Grant Wacker, "A Profile of American Pentecostalism" (cf. note 1 above).

15. I will limit sharply the elaborate notes usual to formal exegesis in view of the essay format used here. Whether I am capable (some would say, guilty) of such conventional accoutrements of scholarship readers could judge from my thesis ("The Testament of Job: Introduction, Translation, and Notes," Harvard Ph. D. thesis, 197I) or from an article in the Merrill C. Tenneyfestschrifi, "The Limits of Ecstasy: An Exegesis Of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10," in Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 259-266.

16. F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2Corinthians, New Century Bible (Greenwood, SC: Attic Press, 1971), p. 24.)

17. Interpreters will be helped to consult Linda Mercadante's history of interpretation of the passage to 1978, From Hierarchy to Equality: A Comparison of Past and Present Interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 in Relation to the Changing Status of Women in Society (Vancouver, BC: G-M-H Books/Regent College, I978). Three later and worthy though unconventional interpretations of I Cor. 11:1-16 deserve mention. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, I Corinthians, NT Message, 10 (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1979), thinks that Paul is not addressing the subordination of women but the distinction of sexes: "Women should be women, and men should be men, and the difference should be obvious" (P. 106). James B. Hurley, in Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981) suggests Paul cautions against letting the hair down and loose (rather than keeping it done up). Alan Padgett, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament No. 20 (February 1984), 69786 ("Paul on Women in the Church: The Contradictions of Coiffure in I Corinthians I 1:2-16"), sees II: 3-7b as a reflection of the Corinthians' own viewpoint, not that of Paul whose own view, lauding woman, appears in11:7c-16. None of these views affects my interpretation of 1: 1:2-16.

18. A very helpful treatment of the topic and its implications is F. F. Bruce, Tradition Old and New (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1970). This work deserves to be better known and used.

19. James Packer, "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958).

20. James Packer, God Speaks to Man: Revelation and the Bible, Christian Foundations, 6 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965), p.81. Even sortilege, radically dehistoricized random use of Scripture for personal or group guidance, is practiced in some Pentecostal and charismatic circles. A balanced and resourceful pastoral counsel on the practice is provided by John F. Maxwell, "Charismatic Renewal and Common Moral Teaching on Divination," Theological Renewal, No. 23 (March 1983), 19-29. It would be grossly distorted to characterize the Pentecostal churches generally as given to sortilege.

22. Constitution, Article X, d; Bylaws, Article VII, section 2, h (1981 edition of both).

23. I serve, gratefully, at just such a place - Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

24. My professional interest as a Neutestamentler hes at least as much in critiquing the commonly adopted critical methodology as in applying it. I should like to tinker with the adequacy of assumptions behind its use. These days, such an enterprise suggests forays into the writings of such persons as Michael Polanyi, Peter Stuhlmacher, and Walter Wink-maybe even the poetry of William Blake.

25. In revising this paper I had the benefit of written comments from the following colleagues: Isaac Canales (Fuller); Gordon Fee (Gordon Conwell); William MacDonald (Gordon College); and Robert Meye (Fuller). I did not follow all their suggestions, so I take responsibility for the outcome.



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