CHURCHES - 2a
The Issue at Ephesus
And the Infamous 1 Timothy 2:11-14
So what's the deal with Paul's comments about keeping women silent and restricting them from teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11?
Doesn't he say a woman should learn in silence?
Well, the word used for silence, hesuchia, more literally means "quietness." When Paul instructs women to learn with quietness and submission, he is simply telling them to be cooperative. Some scholars point out that just by commanding women to be taught, Paul was advocating a significant liberating advance for that culture from the perspective of both Jews and Greeks. It is as though he said, "Let the women go to seminary and get their M.Div. degrees." It may be that the women Paul refers to did not even know how to behave in such a context.
Why then, our hypothetical search committee asks, does Paul explicitly say in 1 Timothy 2:12-14 that women may not teach or hold authority over men?
"I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent [hesuchia: quiet]. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner." (1Tm 2:12-14)This seems to contradict all we have been saying -- and all the New Testament is saying -- about women and their total equality with believing men as priests. But just how explicit is Paul in this chapter?
Hermeneutical Hurdles In a Noteworthy Context:
Most, if not all, of Paul's remarks in this chapter -- even those unrelated to the equality question -- create problems for the average Bible reader when taken at face value as they occr in most current translations. Let's consider how 1 Timothy 2 is riddled with many other difficult statements that pose hermeneutical hurdles.
First Paul indicates that God desires all men to be saved (v. 4). Taken at face value this implies all men will be saved, for who resists God's will? But in order to be consistent with the overall teaching of Scripture, Calvinisst and Arminians alike must explain why the desire of the Almighty God does not come to pass. Or does it come to pass? Should we be universalists? Whatever we conclude, all orthodox Evangelicals use legitimate tools of interpretation to understand this statement in a way that denies its prima facie meaning.
Next Paul describes Jesus as paying a ransom for all (v. 6). Ransoms, as a rule, are paid to captors. Was Jesus' death a payment to our captor, the devil? Taken at face value, this might be our conclusion, as it was the conclusion of several early church fathers. Most of us, however, cannot accept this idea. Therefore we again manage to interpret this verse in a way that denies the face-value meaning of the text.
The third difficulty for many literalists is when Paul says men everywhere should pray with raised hands (v. 8). Many Fundamentalists, not wanting to open the door to the charismatic movement, would ask a person to leave their congregation if they persisted in such a practice! Even where this practice is allowed, no one "requires" men to pray in this way or treats this command with the same rigidness we see applied to women regardng verse 12. Isn't selective literalism wonderful?
The fourth hermeneutical hurdle is when Paul tells women they should not braid their hair, wear gold, pearls, or costly clothing (v. 9). Again most of us either ignore this or we find a way to re-interpret Paul's meaning. We generally do not follow the face-value application of these instructions. (If we did, how would a single televangelist's wife manage to look presentable on television?)
Fifth, Paul seems to indicate -- according to the face value of verse 14 -- that women are unsuited to teach, due to a tendency to be deceived like Eve. Certainly if women cannot teach men for this reason, they should not be trusted to teach anyone. We ignore this implication, however, when we allow women to teach one another and our children. And, by the way, it appears Paul did also, since he directed women to teach what is good in Titus 2:3.
Lastly, Paul says women "shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety" (v. 15). Taken at face value, this seems to say women are saved by being godly mothers -- or by good works. Some translations, recognizing this problem, change the phrasing to imply God will "preserve" godly women through the birthing process -- a rendering that neither bears up to experience nor does it fit with a consistent doctrine of sole gratia (grace alone) as our basis of acceptance by God in daily life. Because we are faithful to the clear and consistent teachings of Scripture, we rightly find ways again to reinterpret this passage.
Now notice: It is in the midst of this problematic chapter that we find the passage so often used to prevent women from taking part in full leadership and ministry in the church. Here it is where those who have interpreted their way around the face-value meaning of every other verse suddenly demand that we follow a rigid, literalist, face-value method when we come to the verses about woman teaching! But as we will see, these verses are actually the least clear in the entire passage!
How can we explain this sudden respect for the letter that turns words by the teacher of grace into law, if not by pointing out that this change of heart is clearly motivated by and agenda of male priority?
Is it just an ironic coincidence that literalists, who generally do not require men to raise hands in prayer, now want to require women to be silent? Is there some magic formula that allows us to permit pearls and gold but guard our pulpits from those who wear them? Can we deny both the universalism that seems implied early in this chapter and the salvation by works apparent at its end, and yet be rigid, dogmatic, and literalistic about the words in between?
If we recognize there are times we cannot take Paul's statements at face value, but that a consistent and legitimate hermeneutic must be employed to get at a passage's intended meaning, then what possible justification can there be for not following the same rules of interpretation when it comes to Paul's words about women? This is shear inconsistency on a point that flies in the face of the Scripture's clear teachings about women. Paul's teaching and example, along with the clear teachings of the entire New Testament, affirm that women are to be coheirs, coworkers, and coministers with men in Christ, and that in Christ there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male and female (Ga 3:28).
Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering, also turns out to be the very place where Priscilla, who was not an Ephesian, taught and ministered. It was Priscilla who with the assistance of Aquila put the missionary Apollos on the right theological track (Ac 18:19-26). Obviously Paul is not concerned about keeping all women from teaching.
But how then, our hypothetical search committee asks, do we explain Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:11-14?
Next time: 1 Timothy 2:11-14 - Various Interpretations Proposed