In the Fall issue of JBMW, Ray Van Neste has a hard-hitting review of Joel Green’s Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics (Baker, 2011). He observes that the volume is weak on biblical authority and biblical sexuality. In his conclusion, Van Neste writes,
The volume as a whole is alarming and disappointing. I’ve focused primarily on entries concerning sexual ethics since they illustrate the dictionary’s general approach to scripture and since these issues are some of the most significant ethical issues facing the church today. The value of a tool is seen in how it works at the point of greatest pressure. At such points, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics fails.
When I asked an employee of Baker how this volume fits the mission of an evangelical publisher, he made it clear that Baker did not claim to be an evangelical publisher, that they were much broader than that. He pointed to their new Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture as an example and said their parameters were publishing books in keeping with Nicene Christianity. This was news to me, though it is still hard to see how the endorsement of homosexuality fits Nicene Christianity since the Nicene fathers are patently clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality.
Reading other reviews of this volume, one might think the affirmation of homosexuality was an interesting academic trifle- “Hmm. Baker’s new dictionary of ethics affirms homosexuality. Interesting.” However, the nominalization of Scripture and the normalization of homosexuality isn’t a mere academic curiosity; it’s a pastoral tragedy undercutting the work of faithful ministers and blunting the reception of the biblical witness. It may be chic to dismiss the normative clarity of the Scripture, but let us be clear that in this we are meddling with the claims of King Jesus over his church. This is no light step regardless of how common it may be. Furthermore Jesus promised judgment for those in Thyatira who were “teaching . . . my servants to practice sexual immorality” and strongly rebuked the church who tolerated such teaching (Rev. 2:20). As cultural pressure increases on the church to accommodate the spirit of the age rather than hold fast the truths of Scripture, we must decide where we stand. This volume has made its choice. Let us make ours.
You can read the rest of Van Neste’s review on pages 32-34 of the most recent JBMW.
I am preaching through Luke and have found Green’s commentary, in the NICNT series, to be disappointing as well in terms of both biblical authority and interpretation.
It is clear to me that such a dictionary is a poor choice to discuss such subjects from exegetical and application viewpoints.
So how does one determine that a Biblical mandate is applicable to everyone, everywhere or if it should be considered a directive to a specific audience within a given time frame?
Example: 1 Corinthians 11:4-6
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
Now, there are a few denominations that still take this passage to heart (perhaps the Orthodox and some traditionalist Catholics), but not many. Tell someone that women should cover their heads if they’re going to pray or read Scripture during a service and they’ll probably laugh at you.
But why? Why are these passages no longer in effect (besides the fact that they are inconvenient and would render someone’s appearance quaint and outdated, even bizarre)?
The passage puts in place certain expectations regarding gender norms and roles, and frankly, I don’t see any difference between these passages and those that suggest men should not wear clothing that “pertaineth to a woman” (and vice versa).