In Straining out gnats I noted that the CBMW’s argument for reinterpreting 1 Tim 2:12 is so weak, even people who prefer their interpretation avoid trying to defend their argument. But there are other ways to create wholly new meanings from existing Scripture. The most flexible method is to create a zany backstory that causes the existing text to have a whole new meaning. For example, take 1 Cor 14:33b-35 (ESV):
As in all the churches of the saints, 34the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
At first glance, this is devastating to an enterprising feminists looking to rewrite Scripture. But what if you cook up a kooky backstory, claiming that the Apostle Paul’s letter to Corinth was in response to a secret letter from Corinth to Paul that when considered, changes the whole meaning of the offending verses? This example appears to come from a now deleted FAQ by Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church:
Question: I was reading in 1 Corinthians 14:34 that women are not allowed to speak in the church. Whoa– what’s up with this!?
Answer: Historical perspective really helps with this one. In that day, men and women sat on different sides of the church. For a woman to ask her husband a question she would have to shout it to the other side of the church or disrupt the church service by getting up and walking over to him. Apparently, this is exactly what was happening in the Corinthian church, and their worship services were becoming a zoo. Paul is saying, “Listen during the worship service, and talk about your questions on the way home.”
Note how much more freedom this method offers than chiseling around the edges using creative translations. Using this method, you can make an Epistle appear to say anything you want it to say, by creating a tortured backstory instead of torturing the text itself. All it takes is a convincing bluff and a gullible mark willing to buy it.
New commenter Derek Ramsey tried his hand with this same technique to create a new meaning for 1 Tim 2:11-15. Here is the original Scripture for reference (ESV):
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
As you can see, Ramsey has his work cut out for him if he is going to bluff his way into claiming that the Apostle Paul was actually saying that women can preach, and can exercise authority over men. He needs to make the Scripture appear to say the opposite of what it actually says. Yet this method is so powerful, in the hands of a skilled manipulator a semi plausible BS backstory can be crafted:
The Ephesians were dealing with the cult of Artemis which taught that woman was the originator of man. These women were trying to assert their dominance over men by teaching that man comes from woman. Verse 12 instructs the woman not to teach that she dominates a man due to the superiority of her gender. Now the applicability of verse 13 is obvious: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” directly contradicting the cultist teaching. Verses 14 and 15 states that Eve was deceived, cursed with painful childbirth, and will be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (a man who came through childbirth).
It all depends on your presuppositions. The woman (singular in the text) is supposed to be quiet in direct contrast to making her specific aggressive false teachings. The instruction to be quiet has no bearing on the broader issues of women teaching. The text is silent on that point.
As Ramsey notes, the key in this method is not to change the text itself, but to create the right presuppositions to change the meaning of the text into whatever you want to change it to. One other key strength of this method is it is impossible to disprove, so long as the backstory you create doesn’t violate our historical understanding of the time and place involved. Ramsey explains that his backstory not only gives the answer he wants, it doesn’t violate our historical understanding:
Timothy was in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). There is no historical question that Artemis was the fertility goddess of Ephesus. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus is one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. This isn’t even remotely controversial.
If you decide to create your own new meanings for the Epistles, you will need to do as Ramsey does and make up a story that fits with history. From here, the critical next step is to be unshakable in your bluff. This method will only work on the easily deceived, but for Ramses’ purposes this is all he needs.
Impressed with Ramses’ skill, I was inspired to try my own hand at this method by creating my own entirely new meaning for 1 Tim 2:12. Note that I’m not actually trying to con my readers into a BS reading of the passage, so I’m not presenting this in a serious way.
——————————– BS Backstory ——————————–
As we all know there was a famous library in ancient Ephesus. It turns out that Paul was responding to a problem of Christian women talking loudly in the library in an effort to teach some of the men in the congregation. Even worse, the women were being especially rude by loudly ordering the men to pay the fines for books the women hadn’t returned on time. The librarian was upset and wrote to Paul begging him to solve the problem plaguing this magnificent library. Therefore, Paul’s instruction to Timothy was not instruction on how women should conduct themselves in church, it was a lesson in how to properly behave in a library: Be quiet in the library and always return your books on time! That this was needed may seem strange to us in our modern era, but at the time libraries were still quite rare, and not everyone learned proper etiquette while growing up.
——————————– End of BS Backstory ——————————–
As I noted, I’m not offering this seriously. This is the first problem with my bluff. The other problem is that construction on the Celsus library didn’t begin until 117 AD, decades after 1 Timothy was written. However, this was my first attempt, and if I had more carefully researched the history before creating the backstory I could have come up with a more convincing one. In the comments section feel free to offer your own favorite BS backstory you’ve heard others use to redefine Scripture, or try your hand at creating one yourself. Most importantly, understand what hucksters are doing when they use this method and don’t be taken in by them.