Form, function, and determining motives

It was pointed out to me yesterday that a discussion about form and function, like what I wrote yesterday, hinges on us being able to properly identify the motives behind the form we see in the Bible. And that’s not an easy task.

That’s a very important point. In the case of footwashing, it seems to me that Jesus makes his motive fairly clear, even when footwashing carried a multitude of meanings. He points it directly to service and tells his followers that they are to be servants.

In other discussions, it’s more complicated. In the teaching about head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul refers to the covering as a sign of authority. But whose authority? The woman’s authority to pray and prophesy in public? Her husband’s authority over her? The elders’ authority in allowing her to pray and prophesy?

And Paul doesn’t just talk about authority. He also says it’s “because of the angels.” There’s lots of conjecture and speculation about what that means, but it’s difficult to say with precision. How to identify the function of something when we can’t clearly state the motives?

This interpretive difficulty lead some to abandon form and function as a hopeless exercise. To me it says more about the need for humility and charity in our interpretations.

Glad to have gotten some feedback on yesterday’s post. Let’s keep the discussion going.

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