Results tagged “Exegesis” from Reformation21 Blog

1 Corinthians 14:34: Did God Really Say...?


While a student, I came across an article by Latin American theologian Elsa Tamez titled, "Women Must Not be Silent in the Congregations!"--in which she argued that Paul gave apostolic instruction about how women should exercise the gift of prophecy in the church in 1 Corinthians 11, while rejecting the idea that the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 14:34. In the latter passage, Paul exhorts Christian women to refrain from teaching or preaching in the context of public worship services. You can understand how shocking it is to hear ministers in Evangelical and Calvinistic denominations now suggesting that a combined reading of 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 teaches us that "Women do not have to be silent in the congregations" except during a time of "judging of the prophecies."

Much of what leads to this sort of re-reading of 1 Corinthians 14 is driven by a desire for cultural adaptation. The rationale is as follows: women in our societies are strong and successful, competent and competitive. Why shouldn't they also be leading in every respect in the church? This way of re-reading the Scripture will almost certainly cause serious harm down the line when our children begin to read other passages of Scripture in a similar way under the pressure of society. While it may seem like a secondary issue now, introducing novelty into an attempt to reinterpret a passage like 1 Corinthians 14:34 will cause significant problems with primary issues sooner or later.

In order to keep the peace and purity of the church, it is important to recognize that there are will always be different interpretations of certain passages of Scripture. We must accept the fact that all the pastors in one denomination will never read all biblical passages in precisely the same way. A brief consideration of differences among commentators, who served in the same denominations throughout church history, will also support that conclusion. In that regard, we must discern whether the discrepancy is over an essential or non-essential matter for the church or to use Calvin's distinction between essential, important or indifferent.

For example, the doctrine of Christology is is non-negotiable to us, while the discrepancy concerning the frequency of the Lord's Supper is of less importance. There is no point in raising a concern regarding a disagreement over an issue that is non-essential. However, there can be a time when the discussion of a secondary or negotiable topic may warrant serious concern.

A revisionist reading of 1 Corinthians 14:34 suggests that--when Paul says that women should keep silent--he does not mean silent in the whole public worship, but only silent during specific times; namely, during the judging of prophecies. To be fair, this interpretation is not something that has suddenly sprung up. It has increasingly become more prevalent over the past century. It is not only a problem in one denomination. This interpretation is becoming more and more accepted and less and less questioned, as solid scholars such as D.A. Carson and William Kistemaker have supported it. Nevertheless, this is a relatively new way to solve the interpretative tension in this passage.

In 1 Cor. 11:5 Paul says "every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head..." and in 1 Cor. 14:34 he adds "the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak..." Why does Paul speak of women prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11, while in 1 Corinthians 14, he forbids them to speak? How should we reconcile these two passages?

The literature on the solution of this apparent contradiction is vast and unending as there have been many attempts to reconcile these passages through the history of interpretation. We can summarize for our purposes four solutions to this apparently contradiction. One interpretation maintains that there are two kinds of worship: informal (chapter 11) and formal (chapter 14). We may refer to this as the "different context solution." Another interpretation proposes that in 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul was describing (not affirming or commending) that women prophesy; and, that he was just delaying the moment in which he would forbid it later on, in 1 Corinthians 14. We may call this the "delaying of condemnation solution." A third interpretation is that Paul was speaking of exceptions in chapter 11. This may be called "the extraordinary situations solution." A fourth, and final, interpretation is the proposal that in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is stating that women should be silent only at the time of the judging (testing) of the prophecies. We may refer to this as the "judging of prophecies solution." All are agreed that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:34, was not forbidding women to make any utterance at church. From the early church onward, all have understood that the prohibition was about women speaking publicly and officially during worship.

The Different Context Solution

This "different context solution" proposes that in 1 Corinthians 11, women pray and prophesy during private or informal worship in which everyone participated. In chapter 14, the setting is more formal and structured worship services. It may be comparable to the synagogue worship in the days of Christ and the disciples (Luke 4; Acts 13). Some have suggested that the meetings in 1 Cor. 11:5 were private meetings that were only attended by women. This is a classical and traditional distinction that I believe our churches should value.  This distinction was taught by Origin (ca. AD 185-254), Chrysostom, Aquinas, Nicholas of Lyra, Denis de Carthusian, Cardinal Cajetan, and Claude Guilliaud. According to John Thompson, Calvin also held to this solution to the meaning of the two passages. However, at other times Calvin seemed inclined toward the "delaying of condemnation solution" as well. In Calvin's exposition of Acts and 1 Cor. 11:5, he suggested that Priscilla and Phillip's daughters would have exercised their gifts in this way "at home, or in a private place outside the public meeting."

Charles Hodge says that Paul "takes for granted, in 11:5, that women may receive and exercise the gift of prophecy. It is therefore only the public exercising of the gift that is prohibited." B.B. Warfield's explanation of the word "laleo" helps this interpretation, especially in light of the context of the passage. In 1 Cor. 11:5 there is nothing said about church in the context. The word church does not occur until verse 16. Chapter 14 is referring to the whole ekklesia (verse 4, 5, 12, 16, 19, 23, 26ff, 33). As R.C.H. Lenski affirmed, from 11:17 until the end of chapter 14, Paul is dealing with gatherings of the congregation for public worship. We should not depart from the simple and natural meaning of the text. Further, 1 Corinthians 11:5 should be understood in the light of the clear and emphatic nature of 1 Tim. 2:1ff and 1 Cor. 14:33ff.

Some critics of this position say that the separation between private and public is anachronistic. However, it seems evident in Acts 18 that this contrast shaped the mind and practice of the church of the New Testament as they initially gathered in the Synagogue. At least in our topic, there is a clear circumstance in which Priscila and Aquila took Apollos aside privately, and more accurately explained to him the way of God.

Many who dismiss the "different context solution" explain that it does not adequately reconcile 1 Corinthians 14:26 (where Paul seems to encourage the participation of men and women in worship) with verse 35 of the same chapter (where Paul seems to discourage women's participation).  However, this is a false conflict. In 1 Corinthians 14:26 it could just as easily be understood that Paul was not addressing women in this text. Why? Because he mentioned "teaching" [διδαχὴν] in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and there is no place in 1 Corinthians where teaching is opened for women in the context of worship. That is the reason why 1 Corinthians 14:34 says "your women."

The Delaying of Condemnation Solution

The "delaying of condemnation solution" establishes that in 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul is not "expecting" women to prophesy as some interpreters today assume. He is simply correcting the church of Corinth in a progressive way. As already noted, at times John Calvin favored this solution. Charles Hodge also held to it. Other noteworthy exegetes, such as Henry Alford, De Wett (1780-1849), A.R. Fausset, Thomas C. Edwards, and JJ Lias commended this interpretive solution.

Frederic Godet drew attention to the fact that Paul delays various corrections throughout his epistles. He does so in regards to the lawsuits in 1 Cor. 6:4, which lay down a simple restriction; in verse 7 he condemns them altogether. Also with regards to participation of Christians in idolatrous feasts, 8:10 seems to allow it; however, Paul then forbids it absolutely in 10:21-22.

The Extraordinary Situations Solution

Another proposed solution is that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul is talking about public prophetesses who were using extraordinary gifts in extraordinary circumstances in the birth of neo-testamentarian communities. However, in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul is speaking of a regular and general principle to be kept by the church. This solution seems to have been advocated by Francois Lambert, Martin Luther, and Peter Martyr Vermigli. John Thompson explains that this solution met the practical needs of the Reformation era. He writes, "God raises up women prophets specially when the church is in disarray...sometimes to shame men, but sometimes just because there is no man around who can do the job." Of course, these interpreters believed that prophecy was no longer a gift continuing in the church today. However, the objectives of prophecy may continue in the work of teaching and preaching in the church. They were not in favor of women taking the role of teaching or preaching, but they were aware of some exceptions that may have happened in extraordinary circumstances. The advocates of this solution never promoted preaching or proclamation as a regular function of women in the church, "but some in the era of the Reformation went so far as to authorize women's temporary ministry on the grounds of necessity..." In my studies, I have not found this position advocated in any documents in the post-reformation era. However, the principle of contrast between ordinary and extra-ordinary times is present in the "Form of Presbyterian Government" of the Westminster Assembly. There it is far from authorizing women to teach, but establishes that "In extraordinary cases, something extraordinary may be done, until a settled order may be had, yet keeping as near as possibly may be to the rule."

It is remarkable that during the Reformation era this debate was in the context of the need for teachers of God's word. By contrast, at least in my experience, here in America the discussion of the Role of Women arises in the context of the "successful" women in the marketplace that can be used in the church.

The three alternatives presented above are considered the historical options. They advocate that women are not allowed to engage in any public speaking during public worship--the third option, however, granting exceptions in extraordinary circumstances. Throughout history, these have been the main interpretations for reconciling the teaching of 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Cor. 14. It is not until interpreters sought a way to accommodate cultural expectations that proposals for women leading in worship led on to novel revisions and re-readings of these passages.

The Judging of Prophecies Solution

According to some the "judging of prophecies solution" is consistent with the structure of the passage. Many follow Kistemaker when he says that there are three restrictions in the passage. First, Paul encourages speaking in tongues but restricts it to a limited number of people. Second, Paul encourages prophecy but limits the number of prophets and requires order so others can judge. Third, Paul adds an additional restriction that the ones judging prophecies must be male (apostle or elders)--clarifying that women should not speak duringthis specific time.

Proponents of this solution insist that σιγάτω rarely means total speechlessness. No serious theologian of the past would have exegeted this passage in this way. As noted already, John Lightfoot, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians (using the Talmud and other Judaic sources), says that "it was allowed them [the women] to answer Amen with others, and to sing with the church; but to speak any thing by themselves, it was forbidden them."

The "judging of prophecies solution" faces the following insurmountable problems:

  1. Why did Paul choose to specifically address only women to be silent during this time of evaluation of the prophecies, instead of just stating in general that non-apostles or non-leaders should be silent?
  2. The silence instructed during tongues and prophecies is a particular silence directed to individuals. Paul employs the singular form. However, the silence for women is general, as indicated by Paul's use of the plural form.
  3. If the Apostle wished to limit the silence only to the time of judging of prophecies, why did he use the word "learn" instead of "judge" for the intention of women?
  4. Why have exegetes, prior to the late-20th Century, not favored this opinion?

Concerning this last point, Michael Marlowe has tracked the history of this interpretation back to its origination by Margaret E. Thrall in 1965. Thrall was a remarkable Pauline scholar and became one of the first women to be ordained in the Church in Wales. Later, in 1981, James B. Hurley, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, promoted Thrall's interpretation. The same position was adopted in 1982 by Wayne Grudem and defended by D.A. Carson in 1991. In addition, in 1993 the great commentator Simon J. Kistemaker adopted a similar view stating that he follows Grudem, Carson, and Hurley in that regard. Finally, this Anthony Thiselton advanced this proposal in 2000. We are now at the point that it is becoming a more and more accepted proposal to restrict the teaching of the Apostle to forbid women to speak in public worship.

Why is this important?

While we wish to avoid a fallacious appeal to the slippery slope argument, adopting the "judging of prophecies" solution will have an impact on the application of these passages to open doors for women preaching in otherwise conservative denominations.

The "judging of prophecies solution" implies that Paul allowed (and encouraged) women to prophesy in the worship service. This also implies that worship services or worship practices are divided in two: authoritative leading, and non-authoritative leading where women can address the congregation.

One could actually argue from the concept of prophecy itself that there may be some non-authoritative devotionals that women may deliver in public worship (prophecy) but they should not be allowed to deliver a sermon (judging of prophecies). I understand that many in conservative circles do not advocate for this today. For instance, even in the 1988 OPC Report on Women where they acknowledge this novel interpretation, they dismissed the possibility of a contemporary application of it because prophecy is an already-extinct gift in this post-apostolic era. Others made a distinction between prophecy and teaching. At any rate, we can say that this interpretation may serve to "normalize" many practices that are already taking place in numerous congregations--such as, women leading prayers of petitions, prayers of praise, secondary readings of the Scripture etc.

The problem comes when someone seeks to advance the "judging of prophecy solution" to allow women to give exhortations (short sermons) in worship. If Paul allowed women to prophesy in public worship as the "judging of prophecies solution" advocates, what would stop someone from saying that women today can do short devotionals during public worship to encourage, instruct, and teach [1 Co 14:3] the whole congregation in a non-authoritative way? What will prevent our conservative Reformed denominations from moving in the same direction as the Southern Baptist Convention seems to be moving? A number of years ago, I warned the General Assembly of my own denomination that the approval of this interpretation opens the door for women preaching in worship services and other practices forbidden by Scripture.

Beyond this, the problem with the "judging of prophecies" interpretation extends far beyond the issue of women participating in public worship. It forces us to read between the lines of what the Bible actually says. If Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, says that women should be silent in the public worship service--and we say, "only during a certain part of the service," then we are de factor making the Word of God say something other than what it actually says. I certainly am not advocating for a rejection of all possible solutions to interpretive difficulties. I do, however, believe that we should follow the humble attitude of the divines of Westminster, who--before affirming an interpretation--considered the history of exegesis of the texts. Unfortunately, at present, modern interpretations have come to be "normalized" to the point that centuries of exegetical and hermeneutical work is dismissed even by conservative theological professors.

I am optimistic that if we promote deep and irenic conversations that are centered around biblical fidelity, we may be able to create a strong culture of hermeneutics and exegesis in future ruling and teaching elders. Our children and those coming after us need us to engage in these conversations today.  I am open to listening to my brothers. I strongly believe after my own readings that the "judging of prophecies solution" to 1 Corinthians 14:34 is a novel interpretation that forces a meaning onto the text in order to remove any discomfort the apostolic prohibition brings to our modern ears.

Rev. William Castro is the Pastor of Emmanuel Upstate Church in Greenville, SC. He is originally from Peru. William served as an advisory member of the PCA Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry in the Church

Questioning Our Preaching


The transition from preaching occasionally to preaching weekly came for me a little more than three years ago as I was called from an associate pastor position to lead a church plant. My preaching courses in seminary and the books I'd read had focused on style and content. How to exegete the text, then outline the sermon. How to deliver it in such a manner that I wouldn't put the congregation to sleep. What I didn't get a lot of was principled foundations. So I've had to cobble them together on my own, picking up pieces here and there. I'm far from being an accomplished preacher, but I do think I've got a set of principles now that guide my sermon preparation that are helpful. And as men aspiring to preach ask me how I go about thinking through and preparing, I find myself more and more going to these principles.

Everyone has their own style. And you hear often enough that you can't and shouldn't try to sound like your favorite preacher. Be yourself. That's excellent advice. But we are also stepping up into the pulpit to fill a role that is, in some important ways, alien to us. It is not our Word that we preach. And it is not with our own authority that we preach. And if we are powerful preachers, it is not in our own power that we preach. So what principles shape this calling as it comes to us? What mold do our own gifts and personalities need to fit into as we work? I humbly suggest that the following are worth consideration.

1. Is it true to the text?

We as preachers may have a lot of useful things to say. We may even have a message that is biblical, but if we are going to open God's Word and preach a passage of Scripture, we should preach that passage and do so faithfully. Let the passage determine the content of your sermon. This is not only a consideration as you begin, but something you should check for at each stage of your sermon preparation. Have you understood the text? Is your sermon outline true to that message? Do your supporting elements further that message?

2. Am I preaching Christ? Is it gospeline?

I am well aware of the discussion surrounding the necessity of preaching Christ from every text. I am convinced that it can and should be done. If we are not preaching Christ, what are we preaching? Is it some truth about God? It is comprehended in Christ. Is it some aspect of our salvation in God? It is apprehended in Christ. If it is the law, then will you place that command in the context of the gospel, as God does consistently in his Word? Every sermon should be a brushstroke on the canvas on which you paint for your congregation an image of Christ in words, an image that is compelling in its beauty for those who would believe and terrifying in its wrath for those who are lost. Christ did this with his disciples after the resurrection. Every New Testament author did this in his use of the Old. Each sermon in Acts points to Christ in the Old Testament. What are we preaching if not Christ?

3. Am I preaching the law and the gospel (the indicative and imperative) in the same measure as the text presents it?

Perhaps a corollary of both the first and second principles above, are you preaching the gospel and the law in proper measure? If the passage is entirely imperative, the sermon should, I would argue, be focused on the imperative. Never to the absolute exclusion of the indicative of the gospel, of course. But neither should we state the imperative and flee quickly to the indicative and camp out there the rest of the time. Let the text guide you in this. Alternatively, when the text is filled with the grace, mercy, patience, and love of God for his people and the truth of all he has done, is doing, and will do for them, we should not then be focused on imperatives!

4. Is it compelling?

By this I mean, is my presentation of it compelling? I can do all the above and be quite boring. Have I written the sermon in such a way that people understand it and are compelled by it? We have a responsibility to stand before God's people and explain the Word in such a way that its meaning is clear (Ezra 8). Then, appealing to their hearts by way of the truth, we call them to believe and obey. Often, doing so requires us to know our parish. The good news is, the story is already compelling. If we believe it ourselves and are allowing the text to speak to us first, then a compelling presentation is not usually too far away.

5. Have I exegeted my congregation?

This is one reason I prefer small parish ministry. The idea that I will preach week in and week out and someone else will know and care for the sheep during the week is unsettling to me. Others may be able to do this, but I am not so equipped. Knowing your flock will enable you to communicate with them more effectively. It will also help you when it comes time to decide what to leave out of your sermon. And with enough time spent preparing, you will almost certainly need to leave something out. What does your congregation most need to hear? What are their greatest needs? Whether it is comfort or hope or admonition, knowing your flock will enable you to feed them well. Carelessness in this could result in running roughshod over the weak and hopeless (Is 42:3, Matt 12:20). The work of the pastor in the pulpit is sometimes more like surgery than anything else.

6. Have I allowed the Word to exegete my own heart?

I mentioned above that we must believe the message ourselves and allow the text to speak to us first. We are in the awkward position of being sheep ourselves. Like the Aaronic priest who had to make sacrifice for himself before he could make atonement for the people, we must first let God's Word have its way with us. We are weak like those we serve. It requires a humility that we should not fear, hate, or be ashamed of, but instead embrace. The author of Hebrews says that this shared weakness of priest and people is a hallmark of Christ's person and work (Hebrews 5:2-3) as our Great High Priest.

No matter the passage or topic or style of the preacher, any sermon can and should fit into this mold. There are certainly others that I haven't yet considered, so this may just be a beginning. Whatever you do as a preacher, I suggest you find a set of principles that have biblical authority and adhere to them doggedly. It is God's Word we proclaim and not our own, and so we have a responsibility to do so according to his Word.

Rev. Matthew Bradley is the founding pastor of All Saints PCA in Brentwood, TN


Tripping on Scripture


Humans are amazing pattern finders. We detect patterns everywhere in the world around us: contorted faces in the wood grain, mythical creatures in the clouds, phantom ailments in our aches and pains--there's no end to the patterns our vibrant and active minds discover in the world around us.

Detecting and Projecting Patterns

The curious thing is that many of those patterns are not really there, not in the things themselves in the same way that the pattern or form (in philosophical jargon) tree is in the massive pine specimen in my front yard or even the way the moonlit sky is in Van Gogh's The Starry Night. This is because the face in the wood grain and griffin in the clouds is a projection of our mind--something we impose on the raw material of reality.

The grain in the wood is certainly there and is given to the mind in all its particularity. That particularity is telling too. A dendrologist can discern not only what kind of tree it came from but how old it was, which way it faced, how many fires or hurricanes it endured, and so on. There is much for science to ponder and sort out in the wood's grain.

That same particularity, however, becomes the imagination's fertile field as our pattern-detecting minds turn to it. If the grain of the wood were not just as it is, and if the plank had not been cut and planed and erected just as it is, then our minds would never see that eerily drawn out Munchian face. The wooden plank is not an empty canvas and the face we see in the grain is both there--ready for us to see; seemingly impossible to un-see--and yet it is not really there at all. There is nothing for dendrology in that face; there is a great deal for the artistry of our pattern-projecting imaginations, however, and perhaps also for psychology's interest in this imaginative knack we have.

The Problem with Projecting

If we swap out the wood grain for the text of Scripture the exegetical problem becomes clear. Responsible exegetes and biblical theologians devote significant energy to justifying the patterns they detect in the pages of the canon. They aim to demonstrate that their interpretations are actually there in the text like the moonlit sky is in The Starry Night--as an intentional creation of its author rather than the mere projection of their active imagination on the grain of the text.

It is not enough to demonstrate the possibility of seeing this or that supposed pattern of meaning in the text. We are capable of seeing all sorts of things in a text. Just because we see it, and see it so vividly we find it nearly impossible to un-see it, does not mean it is actually there by authorial intent. It really could be nothing more than a face in the grain.

What we want to expound is just what is there to be known and understood by science, if you will.

Not Just a Postmodern Problem

This is what divides Augustinian exegesis, which aims at the divine author's intended meaning, from that family of postmodern approaches that locate meaning in the interplay between the raw material of the text and the reader's pattern-detecting and often pattern-projecting imagination. Though we can never eliminate our subjectivity in the act of reading--ought not even to try to do so if we would read the Bible as God intends--we can certainly do better than reduce Scripture to a Rorschach ink blot or muse for pious psychedelics to trip on.

But this is not just a postmodern problem; we are all inclined to project our own meaning onto the grain of the text. Augustine understood this and warns us about it:

"Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture...For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning. And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself. And if he should once permit that evil to creep in, it will utterly destroy him" (De Doctrina, 1.36-37).

Destroyed, that is, by the meaning we "put upon Scripture" that is not actually there-not there by authorial intent--however much the grain of the text might suggest it to our pattern-projecting minds. Destroyed, we might say, by loving the meaning we supply, with all its false intricacy and novel insight, more than the meaning God intends.

Dr. Bruce P. Baugus is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. He is the editor of China's Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom

Counselor, Comforter, Keeper?


One exegetical consideration upon which I have never truly been settled is that which concerns the meaning of the word παράκλητος (Paraklete)--as it appears in such places in Scripture as 1 John 2:1 and John 14:16. The list of translation options from which we may choose includes such glosses as Comforter, Counsellor, Advocate, Helper, Keeper and Encourager. I have long been undecided to how to come to a settle opinion about the proper gloss. On the surface, all of these translations have their merit. However, we will only ever determine the meaning of the word based on the context in which it appears in Scripture.

Needless to say, I was delighted to find a treatment of the meaning of this word in Geehardus Vos' Reformed Dogmatics. Vos gave the word two individual meanings, based on its respective exegetical contexts. The first is that which is tied to the teaching of 1 John 2:1. Vos wrote:

"[Jesus] is called our Substitute or Advocate. He is α παράκλητος, Paraclete (1 John 2:1). One should note that the word paraclete is used in a double sense in the New Testament. It is originally a passive form and means 'someone who is called to help'--that is, an advocate. Since, however, an advocate can also take the place of someone whom he helps, the word at the same time also takes on the meaning of "substitute." It is so used of Christ in the passage just cited (1 John 2:1): 'And if anyone sins, we have an advocate (a substituting intercessor) with the Father.' This is the first meaning."1

The second meaning Vos gave the word is associated with Jesus teaching about himself and the Spirit--the other παράκλητος--in John 14. He explained:

"The word is taken in a somewhat different sense when Christ calls Himself 'Paraclete' for believers and promises them the Spirit as another Paraclete (John 14:16): 'And I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, that He may be with you forever.' Here the Paraclete is 'counsel-giving advocate.' The Holy Spirit, too, is now called a paraclete in this sense, especially because He fills the place of Christ with believers now that Christ has departed. Of course, the principal work of the Holy Spirit as Paraclete is to bring comfort, but the translation of the word itself as 'Comforter,' however common, appears to be incorrect and cannot be justified. Παρακαλεῖν does mean 'encourage,' 'comfort,' but παράκλητος is a passive, not an active, form. The explanation that most presently give it and that is supported by this active form, namely, 'counselor,' is also that of Augustine, Calvin, Beza, Lampe, and many others. The concept 'comforter' is too narrow."2

While this may not settle the question for everyone, it certainly provides a plausible conclusion based on a careful consideration of the unique biblical contexts in which the Holy Spirit has employed the word παράκλητος; and, that is the heart of all true exegetical labor. 

1. Geerhardus Vos (2012-2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, ... K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 3, pp. 168). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2. Ibid. pp. 168-169.

Formulating Doctrine


"It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good." (Westminster Confession of Faith, 4.1)

The Savoy Declaration (1658) and the Second London Confession of Faith (1677/89) contain very similar statements. Our triune God is the Creator of all things (i.e., "all things" other than Himself, of course).

Formulating Christian doctrine, especially as it relates to the doctrine of the Trinity, is not as simple as counting texts which use the same words. Biblical texts ought to be weighed to determine their importance. Weighing texts is especially important when considering creation in relation to the Creator. If only one text of Holy Scripture informs us about a crucial element of the divine act of creation, that text is of great importance. This is the case because creation involves everything in relation to God. The doctrine of creation, as with the doctrine of the Trinity, is a distributed doctrine. John Webster's words capture what is meant by creation and the Trinity as distributed doctrines. He says:

"...the doctrine of creation is one of the two distributed doctrines in the corpus of Christian dogmatics. The first (both in sequence and in material primacy) distributed doctrine is the doctrine of the Trinity, of which all other articles of Christian teaching are an amplification or application, and which therefore permeates theological affirmations about every matter...The doctrine of creation is the second distributed doctrine, although, because its scope is restricted to the opera Dei ad extra [i.e., the external works of God], its distribution is less comprehensive than that of the doctrine of the Trinity. Within this limit, the doctrine of creation is ubiquitous. It is not restricted to one particular point in the sequence of Christian doctrine, but provides orientation and a measure of governance to all that theology has to say about all things in relation to God."1 

Because both creation and the Trinity are distributed doctrines, it is of utmost importance that we allow the Bible to speak on these issues, even if it does not speak as often as it does on other issues. We do not need a plethora of biblical texts indicating the work of the Spirit in creation, for example. One text would suffice, and its truth would extend to the entirety of Christian thinking on creation, conservation, re-creation, and consummation.

Formulating Christian doctrine is also more involved than a rehearsal of redemptive history. Though the study of redemptive history (i.e., biblical theology) is a vital aspect of the theological encyclopedia, it concerns itself with the revelatory process presented to us in Holy Scripture. Its method is not designed to conclude its work by presenting full statements on the various places of systematic theology. Unlike biblical theology, systematic theology is designed to collate various aspects of revelation under pre-determined headings (i.e., Scripture, God, creation, providence, etc.).[2] When systematic theology does its work properly, each topic's statements are formulated by a canonical consultation, a consultation of Scripture as a finished product of divine revelation, and in conversation with historical theology. Systematic theology reduces all the truths of Holy Scripture concerning given topics to propositional form. Similarly, confessional formulations seek to reduce large swaths of biblical truth into brief compass (e.g., 4.1 quoted above). In order to do this successfully, these formulations must weigh texts in order to ensure the formulations are brief, though comprehensive, enough to accurately convey the major emphases of Holy Scripture.

It is important to remember that the confessional documents mentioned above are confessions of faith. They contain, in summary form, what subscribers to them believe the totality of the Bible teaches on given subjects. The confession is not merely a reference point from which one subsequently develops doctrinal conclusions; it is the doctrinal conclusions on the subjects that it addresses. Because the confession summarizes what the Bible teaches on given subjects, this means the whole of the Bible is considered in the formulation of chapter 4. You can see this by noticing the Scripture references (and their order) at 4.1 in the WCF: Hebrews 1:2; John 1:2-3; Genesis 1:2; Job 26:13; Job 33:4; Romans 1:20; Jeremiah 10:12; Psalm 104:24; Psalm 33:5-6; Hebrews 11:3; Colossians 1:16; and Acts 17:24. Citing Scripture references indicates to readers that the members of the Assembly formulated the doctrines, in part, by the fruits of previous exegetical work in the biblical text. In other words, this is not some form of simplistic proof-texting. Stefan T. Lindblad helps us understand the rationale behind the practice of citing biblical references in the confession. He says:

...To call this a "proof-texting method" in the modern derogatory sense is misleading. By citing specific texts in support of their statements, the authors of the Confession were indicating their adherence to methods of biblical interpretation and doctrinal formation that was characteristic not just of Reformed orthodoxy but also of the whole sweep of pre-critical exegesis. The texts cited...are regarded as the primary seat of the doctrine, the primary (not exclusive) place in Scripture where the doctrine was either explicitly taught or "by just consequence deduced."3 By citing...texts the [Confession] was not arbitrarily appealing to texts out of context. Rather,...the [Confession] was drawing on the interpretation of these texts as argued in the biblical commentaries and annotations of the era. The statement of the Confession is thus a doctrinal result resting on the foundation of Scripture and its proper interpretation. The biblical texts cited thus point in two directions: back to biblical interpretation and forward to doctrinal formulation. Such texts, the dicta probantia or "proving statements," function as the necessary link between biblical interpretation and doctrinal formulation. A confession was not designed to reproduce the work of biblical interpretation, but to affirm its fruit, given that Scripture was the only authoritative and sufficient foundation for every doctrinal topic and for a system of theology as a whole.4

The texts cited are not the only scriptural bases from which the confessional formulations were derived. Also, the formulations are not mere recitations of the words of Scripture. Doctrines taught in Scripture must be formulated into words other than Scripture in order to explicate their meanings for us.

Finally, WCF 4.1 assumes all that comes before it. It assumes the doctrine of Scripture (along with a working hermeneutic [cf. 1.9]), God's attributes and triunity, and the decree. These doctrinal formulations provide background and context for the statement in 4.1. For example, the Creator at 4.1 is the same triune God confessed in chapters 2 and 3. He does not refashion Himself in order to create or while creating. If that were the case, 4.1 would contradict previous assertions of the confession.

Far from displaying a simplistic proof-texting method, the confession evidences a careful methodological approach. This includes exegesis of texts and synthesizing various scriptural emphases, as well as the assumption of doctrinal formulations previously contained in the confession.


1. John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Volume I, God and the Works of God (London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016), 117.

2. We must not think that these pre-determined headings come from outside of Holy Scripture, imposed upon it to make sense of it. The doctrinal places of systematic theology come about due to contemplation upon Scripture.

3. This is a citation from Nehemiah Coxe, Vindiciae Veritatis, or a Confutation of the heresies and gross errours asserted by Thomas Collier in his additional word to his Body of Divinity (London: for Nathaniel Ponder, 1677), 9.

4. Stefan T. Lindblad, "'Eternally Begotten of the Father': An Analysis of the Second London Confession of Faith's Doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son," in By Common Confession: Essays in Honor of James M. Renihan, eds. Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, and James P. Butler (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015), 338-39.


Richard C. Barcellos, is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA and Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is the author of Getting the Garden Right: Adam's Work and God's Rest in Light of Christ and The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis.

Essential Tools for Preaching Christ (Part 1)


Owning a home brings blessings and liabilities with it. While a home can be a good investment it requires maintenance. Homeowners generally have two options in maintaining their homes: they can hire someone to do the work, or they need to get the tools that they need to do it themselves. They need to know how to use those tools as well.

Preachers must develop many tools in order to preach Christ biblically and effectively. It is one thing to know what preachers should do and why they should do it. It is another thing to ask how they should preach. Preaching is a public authoritative proclamation of the gospel, through Christ's ordained ambassadors, through which Christ pleads with sinners to be reconciled to God. Preachers and listeners alike need to understand how this general definition applies to preaching biblical texts. Methods for preaching Christ should include exegesis, redemptive history, systematic theology, and personal devotion. This post gives examples of preaching Christ exegetically and redemptive historically while the posts that follow complete the picture of the preacher's tools through typology, systematic theology, and personal devotion to Christ.

Preachers should preach Christ exegetically. Exegesis refers to an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. John 1:18 describes Christ as the one who exegetes the Father. As Christ interpreted and declared the Father to his hearers, so preachers must interpret and declare Christ to theirs. Christ said that the Scriptures testified to him (Jn. 5:39). Matthew's gospel proves repeatedly how Christ's person, actions, and work fulfilled Scripture. The risen Christ chided his disciples for not believing what the prophets said about Christ's sufferings and the glory that would follow, expounding what Moses and the prophets said about him (Lk. 24:25:27). All Scripture is God-breathed and it is able to make people wise for salvation in Christ (1 Tim. 3:15) because all Scripture testifies ultimately to Christ. Exegesis is direct a direct means of preaching Christ.

Preachers must preach Christ exegetically from the Old Testament by explaining prophecies and promises about Christ. He is the Seed of the Woman who crushed the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15). He is Abraham's seed in whom all the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16). He is the Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:5; Acts 3:22; 7:37). He is David's Son and David's Lord (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:45). He is the shoot from Jesse's root who would rule as King (Is. 11:2) as well as the "root out of dry ground" (Is. 53:2) who would obey and suffer as Priest (Acts 8:30-36). He is the Priest whom God crowned as King (Zech. 3:8-10, 6:12-13; Heb. 7). Preaching Christ from the Old Testament exegetically means locating specific signposts that point to Christ directly.

Preachers must preach Christ exegetically from the New Testament. While this point might seem obvious, it is important to remember how the New Testament reveals Christ. The gospels reveal Christ's person and work through theologically charged history. The rest of the New Testament explains, expands, and applies the truths that the gospels reveal about Christ. The New Testament also provides the interpretive grid for finding Christ in the Old Testament. The New Testament authors used the Scriptures Christologically and they teach us how to do so.

Preachers should preach Christ in light of redemptive history as well. Redemptive history reflects the fact that the Bible has a main point in light of which the biblical story unfolds. Preaching Christ redemptive historically relates every text to Christ insofar as Christ's person and work are the main point of the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Genesis 3:15 serves as a thesis statement for redemptive-history by pitting Christ against Satan and Christ's people against Satan's people. The sacrificial system both before and under Moses explains how Christ would gain victory for his people over sin death and Satan. The Exodus becomes a paradigm for redemption in Christ. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles show the progress of redemptive-history up to that stage.

Typology falls under the category of preaching Christ redemptive-historically as well. A type is a kind of picture that foreshadows something else. It may be ideological or personal. The temple is a type of Christ's body, through which God dwelt among his people (Jn. 2:21). Adam is a type of Christ in his representative character (Rom. 5:14). Melchizedek is a type of Christ's eternal priesthood (Heb. 7). Types move the story of redemptive-history forward by foreshadowing later and greater realities through lesser historical predecessors (Col. 2:17). Every prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament should direct us to the final Prophet, Priest, and King in the New Testament. Types do not correspond to their antitypes in every respect. Sometimes Christ as antitype excels all types superlatively and sometimes he does so by contrast. Preaching should include redemptive-history to help hearers relate particular passages of Scripture to the broader biblical storyline.

Exegesis and redemptive-history are tools that help us understand Scripture in relation to Christ. Preaching Christ exegetically touches every aspect of Christ's person and work as well as the Spirit's work in applying his benefits to us. Preaching Christ redemptive-historically is more general in scope. It illustrates how Christ's place in God's plan creates the biblical narrative and gives significance to its parts. If we isolate redemptive-historical preaching from other biblical tools for preaching Christ, then it runs the risk of telling a story that believers are not part of immediately. Knowing Christ (and preaching Christ) involves more than imagining that we are part of Christ's story. It involves actual participation in Christ, which comes only through personal union with Christ by faith. Yet exegesis needs redemptive-history. Preaching Christ exegetically alone effectively removes Christ from most of the Old Testament. Exegesis without redemptive-history is like reading road signs without knowing where the road is taking us. However, if preachers limit their methods for preaching Christ to exegesis and redemptive-history, then they will still fall short at points of the biblical definitions and aims of preaching established in the previous posts in this series.