Bio on Noel Weeks (from Banner of Truth)
Noel K. Weeks, born at Grafton, Australia, earned a B.Sc. (Honours) in Zoology from the University of New England, Armidale (Australia), a B.D. and Th.M. from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. (Mediterranean Studies, dealing with some of the Nuzi texts) from Brandeis University, Massachusetts.
He retired in 2012 as a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Sydney, but remains an Associate in their Department of Classics and Ancient History, with an interest in the Ancient Near East, specializing in Mesopotamia and Israel, and the Akkadian Language.
One cannot but wonder if all the implications of the position presented have been considered. There is a basic assumption that the Bible writers and the Scripture itself reflect the ideas and institutions of their time, even when the positions of the time were wrong. Note that the authors of the Westminster standards are treated in the same way. What the letter presents is commonly called Historical Determinism. If we humans are such prisoners of our culture, then surely the same must apply to us today. In this modern age we must reflect the ideas of our present culture, which like former cultures, will surely pass away. Furthermore the same logic must surely condemn the RCJ to be an echo of contemporary non-Christian Japanese culture. If it is replied that we have confidence that the Holy Spirit will help us overcome that trap, then how is it that the Holy Spirit allows us to escape cultural captivity, when he did not allow the Bible writers to escape it? Are we better than they were?
The reason why people cannot see the logic of the position they espouse and how it applies to them is that they are themselves captive to the assumptions of the modern world. They display the problem of which they accuse the biblical authors. We are conformed to our age. One of the crucial assumptions of the modern age is that we are enlightened and earlier people were not. That is hubris and pride is one of the things the Scriptures warn against.
As if to anticipate the argument that the New Testament teaching on the role of men and women was a pure reflection of its time, the New Testament makes clear that its teaching is based on creation not custom. Thus Jesus in his teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:3-9 quotes the original instruction at the time of creation. Similarly Paul in his teaching on women’s role in the church in 1 Timothy 2:12-15, bases his position on the created order.
In the light of this the claim that the Scripture says nothing on the issue is just plain contrary to fact. Of course it will be argued that Paul is just reflecting his culture. Yet surely the same argument would apply to Jesus. The sad fact of church history is that fallacious arguments that are used for a specific purpose at one time can then be used for other purposes at a later time. On the logic of this letter every teaching of the Bible that contradicts present cultural trends can be ignored.
Further we should notice that Jesus says the law against divorce was not strictly enforced because of the hardness of people’s hearts. The very same argument deals with the issue of polygamy that is raised in this letter. This case is a good example of the problem of anachronistic judgements. We ask why did the kingdom of God under the Old Testament (or even under the New) not deal with and do away with this or that sin or injustice. The answer is that it was made up of sinful men and the only way to deal conclusively with sin is to kill all the sinners.
The Scripture itself has a very different view of what was involved in the inspiration of the writers of Scripture: “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 2:21). This is reflected in WCF I:IV. God is the author of Scripture.
Our Lord teaches us to be careful how we judge because the same standard will apply to us. We may grieve that some Christians failed to see the cruelty of modern slavery or of apartheid. The sad fact is that they accepted the drift of the society around them. In both of these issues, slavery and apartheid, we need to ask whether there was a teaching of Scripture that was being ignored. Modern slavery has been and still is based upon capturing and selling people. According to Exodus 21:16, that deserves the death penalty. Apartheid, in that it divided the church on racial grounds, clearly violated biblical teaching. Now suppose the RCJ, contrary to the teaching of Scripture, decides to ordain women to teaching and ruling offices in the church, because that is the drift of the society around them. Are they not doing exactly the same as the people they condemn?
So far I have been exploring biblical and theological considerations. There are also historical considerations to be explored. The whole idea that women as a group were oppressed in biblical times is just a consequence of believing popular caricatures and not doing careful historical research. Of course there were women who were oppressed by men. I am going to argue later that the same is true today. However saying that women as a group were oppressed is just not true. According to the most likely chronology, the period of the patriarchs coincides with the Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian periods. In those periods, women held crucial roles in the commercial life of the respective countries. I am not saying that all women did, just as I would not say that all women today are CEOs of companies, but it was a significant trend. The Code of Hammurabi has laws, which reflect the prominent position of such women.
Let us take the New Testament period. Acts tells us that in the cities Paul visited there were prominent women (13:50; 17:4,12). How could that be, if they were all held in cruel subjection by men? Does any schoolboy (or girl) who studies early Roman Imperial history not know of the influence of the Julio-Claudian women in the Roman Empire of the time? I do not expect the following to be as well known but in the second to fourth centuries A.D. women are attested as president, leader and elder of synagogues. We do not have such evidence for the first century but that is not surprising as we have very little evidence about synogogues in that century. Nevertheless the slightly later evidence serves to smash the unhistorical picture of women in antiquity.
Of course these examples I have given are all of what we might call upper-class women. Lower class women would not have been prominent but then neither would lower-class men have been. Nevertheless the argument is about women as such. The RCJ is not only showing a disregard for Scripture. It is showing its need to go behind the popular slogans and do some historical research.
As I said before I do not deny that some women were oppressed and ill treated in biblical times. The Scripture itself, by its commandments, responds to such tendencies. However the mantra, that now society in our time has liberated women and we in the church need to do the same, is pure modern hypocrisy. The major cause of poverty for women in modern Western society is divorce. Western societies have made divorce easier and that has had as a consequence the impoverishment of women. I am not saying there should never be divorce. Scripture allows it in limited cases. However I am pointing to a social trend and let us remember that when people say women were oppressed in ancient societies they are pointing to social trends. There exists a slave trade, in everything but name, where poor Asian women are lured to Australia with promises and find themselves trapped in brothels. Similarly the collapse of Communism and the consequent economic disruption forced large numbers of Eastern European women into prostitution. Does the West that prides itself on what it has done for women concern itself with that tragedy? Of course not. As always it is upper class women who do well and who cares for lower class women?
It is this hypocritical societal pressure that tells the church they need to give positions to women. The Scripture says something different. Therefore we have to ask what is real compassion and love for women. It is not in the formalities of societal position. It is in the realities of relationships. The increase in the breakdown of marriage in the West shows that there is less love and concern and that is not to be papered over by making women ministers. The Scripture tells us that God has never been impressed by what we do to appear good to outsiders. What God wants is obedience to his Word because the heart of obedience is what will produce real, and not pretend, care for all people.