Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Full Stature of Women as Servants of Christ in His Church - Part 8


We continue our discussion of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 by noting that there are several plausible explanations for Paul's words, other than taking them to mean women cannot lead or teach men. The fact that other explanations are possible should signal for us the inadvisability of using this passage to dogmatically restrict woman for exercising their Spirit-given gifts for the edification both sexes in the church.

Plausible Explanation 1: This could easily be an instruction only to be carried out "until I come" (see 1Tm 4:13). Paul may well have intended this as a temporary measure suited for a specific situation, perhaps necessary only until the women of Ephesus matured in their faith. Then, and only then, could they imitate the likes of Junia and Priscilla.

Paul's phrase, "I do not allow," can also be rendered more literally, "I am not allowing," which would certainly fit the idea of temporality.

Plausible Explanation 2: It is remarkable, given his cultural context, that Rabbi Saul of Tarsus now endorsed women studying at all. The Greek word Paul uses here (manthaneto, derived from mathetes) implies discipleship. This was progressive thinking for his day, completely counter to the pagan and rabbinic thought likely to be found in Ephesus.

According to this interpretation the Ephesian women's need to be taught was comparable to Eve's naiveté concerning God's command in the garden. The Genesis record seems to say the command not to eat of the tree was given prior to Eve's creation and that it was therefore up to Adam to communicate it to her. A task he appears to have bungled. Paul uses a similar line of reasoning concerning the whole Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 11:3.

Given what we know about the proto-gnostic myths concerning Eve, some of the Ephesians' errors may well have been based on ideas about Eve that Paul's words here serve to correct or rebuke. Paul's argument regarding Eve cannot be taken as justification against women teaching at all -- or else Paul could not have allowed them to teach each other or their children -- it seems more likely that Paul meant to show the need for these Ephesian women to be taught the true faith and for them to be cooperative with the men of their community as fellow disciples. Paul's directives for quiet (not silence) and compliance (not subjugation) are merely practical instructions to the uneducated who are unaccustomed to being taught.

Plausible Explanation 3: These women may also have been accustomed to "running things" by means of manipulating men. In systems of hierarchy where "superiors" dominate "subordinates," subordinates tend to react this way out of a need to create some kind of equality. Since the gospel is supposed to create equality, a continued pattern of manipulation would cause a domination reversal, instead of establishing equilibrium. The result would be a "usurping" of existing legitimate order, which is always wrong, regardless of whether a man or a woman does the usurping. "Usurp" is one possible way to render authentein (commonly rendered in this passage as: "exercise authority").

Control in the hands of ignorant or manipulative people, regardless of gender, is always dangerous. Paul may be saying they should stop this, not because the men have authority but because every leader needs to be trained.

The severely inadequate education of the Ephesian women, in comparison to Ephesian men, is pointed out by David M. Scholer:
In general, the ancient Greco-Roman Mediterranean society was structured basically as follows. The average age of a man at marriage was thirty, but the average age of a woman was eighteen or less at marriage. When a man married he was already a man of the world who knew how to ... function socially and economically. When a woman married she was still a girl who had never been allowed to answer a knock at the front door of her home. A typical woman bore a child about every two years or thirty months through her childbearing years. She was always "barefoot and pregnant" and at home.... Further, women generally had no education beyond the domestic arts. (JETS 30/4, Dec 1987, p. 416)
Certainly, Paul's desire that women be taught (or discipled), and his indication elsewhere that some of Timothy's work was to prepare Ephesus for Paul's arrival (e.g. 1Tm 4:13), is indication that Paul's real desire was to quiet ignorance and to calm disorder (as is evidenced throughout this letter, e.g. 1Tm 2:8) until more could be done. These particular women's behavior happened to be part of an overall problem, just as older people criticizing Timothy's youthfulness was also part of the problem (1Tm 4:12).

The fact that Paul greeted, worked with, and commended women workers and ministers elsewhere should be ample indication that he was not here negatively singling out women as women, but that he was singling out a specific group in a specific church with specific problems. Paul's association with, and approval of, women should also alert us to his goal in encouraging women to be taught or discipled. In other words, the purpose of training these women was to enable them to serve as leaders, but all in due time. This was also Paul's approach to new believers and to young men (e.g., 1Tm 3:3).

We'll continue to look at this passage in our next intallment.
Coming Up:  From an Obscure Word to an Interpretation that Illumines the Whole Chapter

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