Can women speak in church? Conservatives, evangelicals
and liberals continue to maintain an open front on this issue.
The battle cry swings as far right as it does left in this age
with women seeking and obtaining ordination as pastors within
some denominations and in others being denied even the most fundamental
of human freedoms in America: the freedom of speech.
Can women speak in church? For Christians the answer must
lie within the confines of the text of Scripture. Unfortunately,
within mainstream Christianity today, the Scriptures seem to have
little relevance. Christians routinely hold dogmatically to certain
interpretations of a single passage and lightly dismiss passages
that are contradictory in nature even if they occur in the same
letter. This attitude has led to church splits, heresy and apostasy.
Can women speak in the church? This is the question that
will be explored here. It should be stressed that this article
does not suppose to answer or address a woman's role in church,
or the order of authority in Christian homes or any other issues
relating to male and female relationships.
II. The Question of the Texts
To begin answering the question of whether or not a woman may
speak in church one must turn to the scriptures used to support
or deny the argument. The first question a Christian must always
ask is "What do the Scriptures say?" The primary Scripture
used to debate this point is 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35:
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain
silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must
be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about
something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it
is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
It should be noted that the following passage in 1 Timothy is
sometimes used to support or parallel the 1 Corinthian passage.
However, since the question we'll be looking at -- whether women
can speak in church -- is not specifically addressed in 1 Timothy
2:11, and only the amount of space necessary to demonstrate the
difference will be used.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not
permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must
At first glance, it would be tempting to think that 1 Timothy
2:11 addresses the same issue; however, closer observation reveals
1. The Greek words for "silence" in the passages
In 1 Corinthians 14:34 Paul uses the word sigao, which
is translated as "a physical refraining of speech."
It also carries the sense of being "tight-lipped" as
in "holding a secret" (cf. Luke 9:26). This is a command
given in v. 34.
However in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul uses the word hesuchazo
which can be translated as "peaceable, restful, silently
or quietly," but this word does not carry with it the same
sense of verbal restrainment; on the contrary it carries the sense
of "decorum" or "propriety." It is interesting
to note that Paul uses this word in a similar command to the men
of the Thessalonian church (1 Thessalonians 4:11):
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your
own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you,
so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so
that you will not be dependent on anybody. (italics added)
Paul tells them to make it their ambition to lead a quiet
life. The word translated "quiet" is the same
one used in 1 Timothy 2:11, yet nobody would assume that these
men were to go about their business without ever uttering a single
word. Yet, when 1 Timothy 2:11 is used to try and confirm 1 Corinthians
14:34 it is translated as if a woman should be mute when learning.
How can you learn (and Paul says "let them learn") without
asking questions of the one teaching?
2. The absolute nature of the command in 1 Corinthians
14:33b-35 is completely different than what Paul writes to Timothy.
Notice that in the letter to the Corinthians the backing of "the
law" is given to justify his statement, while in 1 Timothy
there is no such backing; rather Paul seems to be using an approach
similar to the one he used in 1 Corinthians 7 where he alternates
between his advice and the commands of the Lord. In 1 Timothy
2 Paul writes "I want", "I also want", "women
should", "I don't permit".
3. It also appears Paul is talking about two things in
the second chapter of 1 Timothy:
a) decorum and respectability.
b) the authority of teachers.
In contrast, in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul's
statement is directed to one thing: women cannot speak in church.
In light of the above, 1 Timothy 2:11-12 will not be used in this
article to either refute or confirm 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 because
clearly the two texts are dealing with two different issues.
III. Establishing the Problem
As stated previously 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 appears absolute.
It is precisely for this reason that a problem occurs. Just three
chapters earlier, Paul makes the statement that women can pray
and prophecy in like manner as men (1 Corinthians 11:4):
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered
dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies
with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as
though her head were shaved. (italics added)
Now, see how Paul defines prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:3):
But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their
strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (italics added)
Logically speaking, one can only take this apparent contradiction
in one of three ways:
1. One must view vv 33b-35 as literal; that is, women are
not allowed to speak in church, nor are they even allowed to ask
questions -- period!
2. One can view vv 33b-35 in light of the contradicting
verses and try to explain what Paul meant, thereby implying that
he was incapable of expressing clearly what he meant.
3. One can assume that he or she is not understanding something
or missing data pertinent to understanding this passage and the
others around it.
The third alternative seems the more reasonable of the three because
it doesn't operate to the exclusion of other Scripture references,
as do options one or two. In other words, to take vv. 33b-35 as
absolute negates what Paul writes in 11:5 where a woman is described
as being allowed to pray or prophecy like the men (v 4). If one
tries to explain vv. 33b-35 in light of what Paul wrote in 11:5
then we tend to minimize the absolute nature of vv 33b-35 and
make an arrogant presumption that Paul either didn't quite know
what he was talking about or he didn't express himself well.
In the majority of the commentaries on 1 Corinthians, the expositors
acknowledge the paradox between 11:5 and 14:33b-35. However, explanations
vary, with the choices bouncing between the first two options
given above. At this point it might be helpful to post some of
the more popular views and then the problems regarding them.
W. Harold Mare, writing in The Expositor's Bible Commentary,
says the following regarding 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35:
"The command seems absolute: Women are not to do any public
speaking in the church. This restriction is not to be construed
as demoting woman, since the expressions "be in submission"
(hypotasso, cf. v. 32) and "their own husbands"
are to be interpreted as simply consistent with God's order of
administration (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:7, 8; Ephesians 5:21-33).
"The law says" must refer to the law as set forth in
such places as Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22;
1 Timothy 2:12, and Titus 2:5. Some have explained the apostles
use of the word speaking (v34) as connoting only general speaking
and not forbidding a public address. But this is incompatible
with Paul's other uses of "speaking" in the chapter
(vv. 5, 6, 9, et al.), which imply public utterances as in prophesying
(v.5). A woman's request for knowledge is not to be denied, since
she is a human being equal to the man. Her questions can be answered
at home, and not by asking her husband in the public service and
so possibly interrupting the sermon."
At first glance this seems a palatable explanation. However, closer
inspection reveals unpleasant discrepancies.
First, Mare states that the command seems absolute, then he goes
on to say that the restriction is not meant to demote women but
rather that it is consistent with God's order of administration.
However, this restriction is not found in the Old Testament.
Second, this verse, taken absolutely, equates a woman speaking
in church with lack of submission to her husband. If this is the
case, then Paul is making a bold and arrogant assumption that
all Christian men do not want their wives to speak in church.
Third, there is the assumption that "the law" is in
reference to other places where women are told to be in submission
to men. However, nowhere in the Old Testament, which is what Paul
would be arguing from, does it state that women are not allowed
to speak in church; in fact women did more than just speak at
the assembly. Deborah led Israel (Judges 4:4):
Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel
at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between
Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites
came to her to have their disputes decided.
Miriam was a prophetess and was sent with Moses and Aaron to lead
Israel (Micah 6:4):
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of
slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
Additional problems exist in the passages Mare used to argue for
silence; in describing the marriage relationship, the mutual submission
to one another is conveniently left out. For example, he references
1 Corinthians 11:3 and 7 without showing verse 11: "In
the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man
independent of woman." Then he entirely overlooks 1 Corinthians
7:4; in a discussion on sexual relations between a husband and
wife Paul states that their bodies belong to each other.
The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.
In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone,
but also to the wife.
The verses Mare used to argue "the law says", when viewed
independently of their surrounding verses, might give the image
of "God's order of administration"; but when taken in
context all we see is what marriage is supposed to be: a picture
of Christ and the church, where the husband loves his wife as
himself and sacrifices himself for her as Christ did for the church.
Submission is mutual (see Ephesians 5:21). Nowhere does the description
of marriage limit a woman's free speech.
Bottom line: because of the fact that husbands and wives submit
to each other and belong to each other, if this argument is to
be taken seriously, then we must follow it to its ultimate conclusion:
if a woman speaking in church is a sign of lack of submission
to her husband, so too, a man speaking in church is a sign
of lack of submission to his wife.
Mare continues in the Expositor's Bible Commentary:
The word gyne used in vv. 34, 35 has the general meaning
of "woman", an adult female (cf. Mat 13:33, 27:55).
But the same word is used to indicate a married woman (cf. Mat
14:3; Luke 1:5). Here in vv. 34, 35 Paul uses the word in the
general sense when he declares as broad a principle that "women
should remain silent in the churches." That he assumes there
were many married women in the congregation is evident from his
reference to "their husbands" (v.35). He does not address
himself to the question of where the unmarried women, such as
those mentioned in 7:8, 36ff, were to get their questions answered.
We may assume that they were to talk in private (just as the married
women were to inquire at home) with other qualified persons, such
as Christian widows (7:8), their pastor (cf. Timothy as a pastor-counselor,
1 Tim 5:1,2), or with elders who were "able to teach"
(1 Tim 3:2). At any rate, a woman's femininity must not be disgraced
by her trying to take a man's role in the church.
The problem here is Mare's assumption regarding Paul's assumption:
why wouldn't Paul make the necessary distinction and explain what
the single women were to do? Notice that Paul didn't hesitate
to make a similar distinction in 1 Corinthians 7 when discussing
marriage and fidelity.
Finally, Mare addresses the contradiction -- but look at what
But what of the seeming contradiction between these verses and
11:5ff, where Paul speaks of women praying and prophesying? The
explanation may be that in chapter 11 Paul does not say that women
were doing these things in public worship as discussed in chapter
This explanation seems reasonable at first, but what Mare has
done is argue from silence. Simply put, his argument is that since
Paul doesn't say they are praying and prophesying in public worship
they must not be. However, this argument works just as well in
reverse -- that is, since he doesn't say they are, who
is to say that they aren't? In fact it is more logical
to conclude that since prophesying is generally verbal and not
done for our own benefit but for that of others (cf. 1 Corinthians
14:3), that they must be prophesyingin some sort of public
Raymond Bryan Brown, in the Broadman Bible Commentary appears
to take even more liberties in his interpretation:
It is clear that Paul permits women to speak in church, according
to 11:5, 13. They are free to engage in prophecy because it is
God who gives his prophetic word in revelation to whomever he
chooses (cf. Acts 21:9). Therefore, men must not abridge the freedom
of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, women are not permitted
to engage in a lot of chatter and questions and violate rules
of social decorum of that era that encouraged a quiet and unostentatious
presence of women in public gatherings. Paul is merely following
widely accepted Jewish and Roman practice in his insistence that
women not intervene on their own volition in public worship. There
is, therefore, no convincing reason to consider vv. 34-35 either
an interpolation or in a dislocated position.
The problem here lies in Brown's approach. He has used 11:5,13
to effectively negate the absoluteness of vv 34-35. Simply put,
he argues that Paul didn't say what he meant. But then what of
2 Peter 1:20-21?
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came
about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never
had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they
were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Was Paul speaking from God or not? In other words, if we use apparently
contradicting passages to explain something, we must be careful
that we don't wind up denying the accuracy of the passages being
explained (effectively saying that the word of God isn't flawless).
A denial of inerrancy seems precisely what Brown's opinion could
lead to. He argues that Paul allows women to speak in church,
based on 11:5,13 and then explains vv. 34-35 as meaning a prohibition
on "chatter and questions" that "violate rules
of social decorum". This is an illogical conclusion because
it denies the absolute nature of vv. 34-35. The statement in vv.
34-35 doesn't differentiate between chatter and prophecy, it just
prohibits a woman speaking in church.
F.W. Grosheide in the New International Commentary on the New
Testament takes an absolute approach towards vv 34-35 .
The view has been expressed that Paul does not issue an absolute
prohibition of women's speaking in the church for 1) the verb
the apostle uses connotes speaking rather than the giving of an
address, and 2) it should be remembered that the special circumstances
at Corinth may have demanded special measures.
It should be granted that Paul writes of speech not of prophecy.
But it is inconceivable in this context that Paul's words should
imply no more than that women may not speak during the services.
Such an admonition would ill accord with subjection as also saith
the law. Does not the context speak of using the gift which God
has given to the church's profit? Secondly, the expression "speaking
in tongues" implies that "to speak" is more than
simply expressing oneself. Much more plausible is therefore
the view that Paul uses the general word "to speak"
because he is of the opinion that any kind of speaking in the
services is forbidden to women. Vs. 35 even forbids asking
questions in the meeting. And as to the second argument, conditions
were indeed unusual at Corinth, but at the beginning Paul stated
that the rule which applies at Corinth applies everywhere. Our
verse, it should now be clear, contains an absolute prohibition
against women's speaking in the services. (italics added)
Here we have a conservative approach that still, at best, manages
to sidestep the issue. Grosheide too, handles the contradiction
between 11:5, 13 and 14:33-35 by arguing from silence so there
is no need to comment as this issue has already been addressed.
IV. Solving the Problem
Various commentators have tried to attach different connotations
to the word "speak", saying that Paul "writes
of speech and not prophecy" but the question begs asking:
how do you prophecy without speaking? In essence, they have either
1) held firmly to a literal approach to vv 33b-35 but end up denying
11:5 and 13, or 2) they deny the everyone in 14:3.
But what about Acts 21:8-9?
Leaving the next day, we reached Caesurae and stayed at the house
of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried
daughters who prophesied. (italics added)
Or again, what about Deborah in Judges 4:4-5? All refer to women
who spoke in some sort of public assembly.
What the various commentaries have demonstrated is that it is
impossible to explain one passage without negating the other.
Or is it?
Can Paul's comment in 14:33b-35 be taken literally without creating
a contradiction with other passages in the Bible? The answer is
yes, if one takes an entirely different approach: if one views
Paul's comment in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 as a quote from
the letter the Corinthians sent him.
Consider the background of the Corinthian church: this was a church
which began to have difficulties with divisions (chap 1), sexual
immorality (chap 5), lawsuits (chap 6), food sacrificed to idols
(chap 8), Paul's rights as an apostle (chap 9), worship and the
Lord's supper (chap 11), spiritual gifts (chap 12-14), the resurrection
(chap 15) and the collection for God's people (chap 16). We know
that Paul had written a letter previous to 1 Corinthians in which
he had addressed the issue of sexual immorality (cf. 5:9-11) .
We also know that at some point afterwards he received information
from some in Chloe's household that there were problems in the
church (cf. 1:11) and, in addition to the report from Chloe's
household, we know he received a letter from the Corinthian church
requesting his advice on some of the above listed subjects:
1 Cor 7:1a Now for the matters you wrote about:
1 Cor 7:25a Now about virgins:
1 Cor 8:1a Now about food sacrificed to idols:
1 Cor 12:1a Now about spiritual gifts,
1 Cor 16:1a Now about the collection for God's people:
What is also obvious from 5:9-11 is that Paul's advice had been
misunderstood in his previous letter:
1 Cor 5:9 I have written you in my letter not to associate
with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the people
of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or
idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But
now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone
who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy,
an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such
a man do not even eat. (italics added)
It is also obvious, based on the divisions and Paul's defense
of his apostleship, that the Corinthian church was confused. In
still yet another example (6:12) of the church's misunderstandings
we see Paul quote a Corinthian attitude then counter it with godly
"Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything
is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--
but I will not be mastered by anything. (italics added)
Paul here reveals an attitude of licentiousness among the Corinthians.
To at least some of them, grace was no more than a license to
do what they wanted; but Paul counters with the appropriate response:
that grace doesn't promote slavery to sin -- rather it promotes
enslavement to righteousness (cf. Romans 6:16). As we read further,
it becomes clear what the Corinthians were attempting to justify
(1 Corinthians 6:13):
"Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"--but
God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality,
but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (italics added)
Some of the Corinthians were apparently justifying their sexual
immorality based on Christ having paid for all sin once and for
all. The early heresy of gnosticism promoted a similar idea: that
what is done in the body is of no consequence. This is not
in keeping with Christianity, which teaches that we will be judged
for things done in the body.
It is easy to understand why sexual immorality might be a problem
among the Corinthians. Temple prostitution was the norm among
the cities of Greece and at one time the "temple on the Acrocorinth
had more than 1,000 hierodouloi (female prostitutes)."
Korinthiazomai (meaning "to live like a Corinthian
in the practice of sexual immorality") was the expression
used at an earlier time by Aristophanes (Fragmenta 354)
to describe a person of loose life.
Likewise, the trappings of idolatry might also be a problem --
thus the issue of food sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:23-24):
"Everything is permissible" -- but not everything
is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" --
but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own
good, but the good of others. (italics added)
Since the Corinthians were trying to get their culture to coexist
with Christianity, could it be that at some point they might also
have misunderstood Paul's teachings regarding women in worship
and intermingled ideas that would be natural to their society?
Being Greek they would have a background in Greek tradition and
culture. So what was the woman's role in Greek society?
In Peoples and Nations -- A World History, Anatole G. Mazour
describes family life in the Grecian world:
A married woman had few legal rights. She could not make a contract
or bring a suit in court. When a man died, his wife did not inherit
his property. Because of poor medical knowledge, many women died
in childbirth. If a family could not afford to raise a baby, it
was "exposed ," that is, abandoned by the side of the
road. More female babies were exposed than male babies.
In social life, too, women were considered inferior to men. Their
duty was to manage the household and the slaves and see to the
upbringing of the children. They rarely appeared in public, and
then only by permission of their husbands. If there was a banquet
or entertainment in the home, the wife withdrew to another part
of the house.
The Groliers Electronic Encyclopedia also paints a dim
picture of the Grecian role of women:
In keeping with its cultural hostility toward women, classical
Greek civilization (5th-3d century BC) severely curtailed women's
political participation. This trend reflected the transition from
an aristocratic to a more egalitarian commercial society with
a growing dependence on slave labor. Classical Athens firmly relegated
women, with slaves and children, to the household, or oikos, which
male citizens dominated and represented in the polity. The married
woman nonetheless earned dignity and respect from her management
of the oikos. The more authoritarian Spartans, who also displayed
deep misogyny (hatred of women) and radically segregated women
and men, allowed women defined public roles. The fear of and
hostility toward women that permeated Greek culture was institutionalized
in law and indirectly expressed in men's idealization and
love of other men, particularly young boys. (italics added)
If the Corinthians came from this societal background, even the
most enlightened of them might still retain some of these biases.
Would it not seem logical then that they took whatever Paul had
taught regarding women and mixed it with their own cultural biases?
We see this in Christianity today. Only in America can there be
"health, wealth and prosperity" teachings because our
culture allows it. But prosperity theology won't wash in Bangladesh,
where people are thankful to get one meal of rice a day. In Egypt
or other predominately Muslim countries one will find people who
are "Christians" or "Muslims" because they
were born that way. While this is totally contrary to the Scriptures,
since nobody is "born a Christian", it serves to illustrate
how the cultural biases of a given country or culture can affect
the way one might view the word of God.
If this negative attitude toward women is a cultural bias of the
Corinthian church, it is logical to conclude (since they have
done it in other areas) that they had intermingled their secular
and social traditions with Paul's godly teaching, thus creating
an error. If this is the case, then we might conclude that Paul's
response to their error would be similar to his previous formula
when faced with one of their errors: he would express their misconception
"As in all the congregations of the saints, women should
remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak,
but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire
about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for
it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."
Then he would quickly refute their notions with the appropriate
Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people
it has reached? (1 Corinthians 14:36)
Walter Kaiser, Jr. in his book, Toward An Exegetical Theology,
Paul's rejoinder is almost ruthless: "What! are you men,
the only ones (monous - masculine; not monas - feminine)
the Word of God has reached? Did the Word of God originate with
The point Kaiser makes in his exegesis of the passage is that
the word "monous" translated "only",
is masculine not feminine. With this being the case, it
further supports the idea that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35,
was denouncing a misconception on the part of the men of the Corinthian
church. Apparently the Corinthian men believed women should be
silent when the word of God was being taught -- even forbidding
them from asking questions. It can be demonstrated from the encyclopedia
article that there might even have been civic laws regarding the
appropriate conduct of women in public. This then would be where
they get their reference to "the law" since -- as was
discussed earlier -- the Old Testament certainly doesn't teach
the silence of women. Paul therefore simply responds that the
Corinthian men don't have the right to claim God's Word as their
sole possession, nor can they forbid women the right to learn
from what was being taught.
This solution does not diminish the inerrency of Scripture. The
obvious conclusion of the matter is that Paul meant what he wrote
in both chapters 11 and 14, and we can now reconcile the conflicting
passages literally without creating a paradox. The "nail
in the coffin" would be if we were to find a copy of the
letter that the Corinthians sent Paul; that would end all speculation
as to his motives behind what he wrote.
The role of women in the church will always be a controversial
one because of personal and cultural biases. Additionally, people
will always try to use the Bible to justify their own preconceived
notions. One example is the teacher who asked Jesus to sum up
the law. Jesus replied: "love God, love your neighbor."
At this point the text relates (Luke 10:29):
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And
who is my neighbor?" (italics added)
Can a woman speak in the church? Since 1 Corinthians 14
doesn't prohibit it and 1 Corinthians 11 confirms it, what then
are the guidelines? They are the same for any Christian speaking
in church, whether male or female:
If anyone speaks he should do it as one speaking the very words
of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength
God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through
Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and
ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11 italics added)
Brown, Raymond B. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Nashville:
Broadman Press. Vol. 10. 1970
Grolier, Grolier's Encyclopedia, Electronic Version.1991
Grosheide, F.W. The New International Commentary on the New
Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1953
Kaiser, Walter C. Jr. Toward an Exegetical Theology. Grand
Rapids: Baker. 1981
Liddel & Scott A Greek - English Lexicon Oxford: Oxford
Mare, W. Harold The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1976
Mazour, Antonele Peoples and Nations, A World History. Orlando:
Harcourt, Brace & Jovanavich. 1983
The Complaint of Jacob
by R.P. Nettelhorst
Jacob’s life was not a particularly easy one and his family life, both growing up, and then as an adult was certainly what would fit the modern definition of being “dysfunctional.”
So, to say the least, Jacob was not at all happy. The one true love of his life was dead. Joseph, his favorite, the oldest son of his beloved, had been dead for twenty-five years. And now Simeon had been taken from him, and this monster in Egypt was demanding the last link he had to his dead lover. Beside himself with grief, we find his reaction in Genesis 42:36 where it all comes down to this:
Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!"
And certainly it was the case that the circumstances of his life, from his perspective, from the perspective of his sons standing around him, made his complaint fully reasonable and perfectly understandable.
And yet, the fascinating thing about his words, for those of us reading the story, is that we know that he couldn’t be more wrong, despite the fact that his words seemed so obviously true to Jacob – unassailably true, in fact. But we the readers of this little episode, know something that Jacob doesn’t: we know that Joseph is not only not dead, but he is second in command in Egypt, the most powerful and most wealthy nation on the planet at that time. We also know that there’s no way for poor Jacob to know that.
So the reality of Jacob’s existence is that everything could hardly be better. His favorite son has done very well for himself, thank you. Good job, and great future, with money to burn. Poor Jacob simply doesn’t know this yet. His perception, his perspective of reality, is incorrect.
And we, the readers, can do nothing to alleviate Jacob’s suffering just now. And God didn’t do anything about it either. It’ll be another year before Jacob learns the truth of what his life is really like. For twenty-five years he mourned for someone who was not dead at all. He bemoans his fate as a miserable one, though his family is absolutely powerful and prosperous. But he doesn’t know any of that; in fact, he has no way of knowing any of that.
September 11, 2001 was thus an exceptionally bad day (to say the least) and raised numerous questions in the minds of many people about the nature of existence, about the goodness of God, about what it is really, that God wants and expects out of all of us. How do we live in a world where this sort of thing can happen? How do we face the crises of life, both small and great? Is there some key to life, some playbook we can get, some list we can follow, some formula we can memorize that will get us through life in one piece, with ourselves and our families living productive and prosperous lives? What does Jacob's complaint tell us about our relationship to God and the world?
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John of the Apocalypse
by R.P. Nettelhorst
If everything in your life went wrong, wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus came and told you why? “Why doesn’t God do something?” It was a question heavy on John’s mind. He had seen all his companions bleed and die; thousands of his compatriots had been slaughtered by a brutal tyranny. It seemed such an odd way for God to treat his most faithful servants. John was just a lonely old man exiled for his beliefs on the island of Patmos. And then Jesus unexpectedly showed up with good news and an explanation.
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