11.21.2010

Bias, Gender Roles and what 1 Tim 5:8 really says.

Mark Driscoll is known for saying controversial things.  In a question and answer period he was asked whether it is right for the wife to support the family and the man to stay at home.  The answer to the question (given by his wife) was that if a man does not provide for his family he is worse than an unbeliever and a reference to this scripture verse is given as 'proof':

"Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

If you noticed a complete lack of 'husband' or 'man' then you're on your way to discovering why this verse cannot mean what Mark (or his wife) wants it to mean.  But beyond the verse is where the real problems lie.

Allow me to provide some context:
Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.  But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.  The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.  But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.  Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame.  Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  1 Tim 5:3-8

In order to get the real context one has to go on before these verses.  Paul is instructing Timothy and reminding him how to retain his integrity while pastoring the church.  In chapter 3 Paul goes over what the character of an overseers, deacons and women should be like.  In chapter 4 Paul reminds Timothy what he should be teaching and promoting in the church warning him to "persevere in them".

Then in chapter 5, Paul tells Timothy how to treat those in the church.  In a lot of ways the focus has shifted to Timothy, especially 4:11 - 5:3, and it's only as an aside in verse 7 that Paul says, "by the way, tell the church what I just told you".

So it seems that it's the pastors who are to recognize those widows who need help.  Who are they? Not the widows with children or grandchildren because family should look after their parents when in need.  The widow in need is the one who lives a godly life and has no one other than God, she is the one that needs the churches help.  Timothy is to give these instructions to the church about caring for widows because the one who doesn't care for their relatives (i.e. widows) denies the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

After looking at the context the problem becomes obvious.  First, the context is the role of the church in the helping of widows with no family and a family's responsibility to help their own.  Second, husbands in this verse must be excluded by definition because a widow can not have a husband!!  Third, gender is excluded in the verses.  'Widow' is the only word that has a definitive gender (female) all the other titles (e.g. relatives) can be either male or female, 'gender roles' has no part in these verses.

This is a prime example of what happens when someone reads their own beliefs into the text.  Mark Driscoll believes that there are God-given gender roles that must be followed.  So instead of seeing what is really in the text, that families need to take care of each other, his bias has hijacked the text and he therefore reads his views about gender roles into the text, distorting it beyond what it says.