CHURCHES - 2c
From an Obscure Word to an Interpretation that Illumines the Whole Chapter
So far, we've looked at several possible ways to interpret Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:12-14 that many take as restricting women from teaching or speaking in church. All of these proposed interpretations make sense and show that an anti-woman rendering of this passage is unnecessary.
But there is another scenario that not only explains Paul's meaning in this verse but also brings the whole chapter together into a meaningful whole. (Remember that when we looked at the entirety of chapter two, we found it riddled with problematic statements.)
In light of what we know about the Ephesian temple cult that existed where Timothy served, there are some other factors to consider.
First, we know that in the ancient pagan temples priestesses usually were really prostitutes. It was believed that intercourse with these "priestesses" was a way to obtain mystical wisdom (sophia) and knowledge (gnosis). These priestesses would braid their hair with gold and pearls and dress in seductive costumes (cf 1Tm 2:9-10) to identify themselves as having cultic power and authority.
Scholars point out that the word authentein (1Tm 2:12), which translators often render as "have authority," is used nowhere else in the Bible. Where it occurred in extrabiblical literature, it never meant "to be an official" or "to be authorized," but generally held negative rather than neutral or positive connotations. The fact that Paul uses an unusual word with pejorative connotations implies that whatever he did not want the women to do, it also would not have been good for men to do either.
Some scholars note that authentein may have had connotations associated with the Ephesian cult. They say the word, as used in other Greek literature never bore the meaning of having authority (unless this is the sole instance) until the fourth century. Its classical meaning was to "thrust oneself," having definite sexual overtones. The second-century Greek grammarian Moeris advised his students not to use this word because he considered it vulgar. In its religious context, they say, it was always associated with sexual orgies masquerading as religiously sponsored fertility rites. The apologist Clement of Alexandria even refers to a group of orgiastic heretics as authentia, the cognate of authentein.
Rather than suggesting that women should not teach the Bible, therefore, Paul seems to be saying the women of Ephesus needed to be careful not to be identified with or to confuse themselves with the women of the local cult. They especially should not carry over ideas or practices from that cult to their new religion. Instead, like their male counterparts, they needed time to be thoroughly taught so that they could distinguish themselves and Christ's teaching from their pagan roots.
One reason why authentein ought not be taken to mean that women cannot teach with authority over men becomes apparent when we realize that not only did Paul allow women to prophesy (1Co 11:5 ff.), but the New Testament heartily endorses the practice of women prophesying (cf Lk 2:36-38; Ac 2:17-18). One could argue that since the church is built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20) and since the gift of prophesy is usually placed before all other gifts but apostleship in Paul's gift lists, that to prophesy is to speak with greater authority than to teach (cf 1Co 12:28). Furthermore, even the most conservative Bible commentators have defined the role of a New Testament prophet as a kind of authoritative teaching and preaching. Consider this definition by John Calvin of what Paul means by "prophet" in 1 Corinthians 12:28:
Let us by Prophets in this passage understand, first of all, eminent interpreters of Scripture, and farther, persons who are endowed with no common wisdom and dexterity in taking a right view of the present necessity of the church, that they may speak suitably to it, and in this way be, in a manner, ambassadors to communicate the divine will.Calvin goes on to associate them with pastors and teachers, noting their similarities, and describing the prophet as one who is especially gifted at confronting the whole church with God's promises and threats, and at helping the church make sound application of God's word.
The Amplified Bible describes the role of the New Testament prophet in 1 Corinthian 14:3 in this way:
... the one who prophesies -- who interprets the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching -- speaks to men for their upbuilding and constructive spiritual progress and encouragement and consolation.In other words, if we truly understand what prophets are and do, and we realize that God includes women in that role, then it becomes incongruent to think women should be excluded from other roles based on the idea that teaching or authority may be involved.
But if teaching really were authoritative, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. If teaching were an exercise of authority, then you would have to accept my belief in woman's ordination -- not because I've convinced you but because I would have authority by virtue of my position as a pastor and teacher. In reality, I have no such inherent authority, and neither does any other teacher. Every teacher, male or female, is judged by the church to speak authoritatively only if and when their words have the backing of the Scriptures behind them. In the church, anyone who can demonstrate that the Scriptures support or teach what they claim is deemed to speak with God's authority. But note, the authority is not in the person; it is in the content of what the person says. The folly of limiting this kind of teaching to men only, therefore, should be obvious!
Well then, what about Paul's supportive arguments in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 that he allegedly uses to support his statements against women having authority and teaching? Does he not state that women should not teach because man was created first and woman was first deceived? Even Calvin and Luther commented that they didn't think these were very good reasons for preventing a woman to teach! After all, if this is the case, then women shouldn't be allowed to teach anyone! (Yet see Titus 2:3.)
Couldn't it also be that Paul is using this argument not so much to keep women from teaching as he is trying to further build his case for allowing women to learn? (Which was a radical thing in that culture, especially for a rabbi!) In other words, isn't there an analogy here?
Just as Eve was created second (after God gave Adam instructions about the tree), and just as she fell into deception (having apparently been poorly instructed), so now aren't the Ephesian women -- who have not yet learned the word of God fully -- aren't they in the same vulnerable position that Eve was in? In order to protect them and the community, shouldn't they be taught before becoming leaders?
Perhaps the solution lies in understanding these statements about Eve in the context of Paul's later confusing remarks about women and childbearing. A literal translation of 1 Timothy 2:14-15 reads like this:
14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But she will be saved through the childbearing, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.Notice, the "she" in verse 15 is "the woman" (Eve) of verse 14. And it is "she," "the woman," Eve, who will be saved -- i.e., redeemed or restored (see NIV text note). From what? If we say salvation from hell, this suggests salvation is conditioned on obedience and character, a salvation by merit or works--which is inconsistent with Paul's teaching elsewhere.
But Paul could mean she is saved from her deception and from that which demands her silence. This would open the possibility that in her restoration she will be able to teach. By what means will she be so restored? Through "the childbearing;" not just any childbearing, but by the bearing of The Child, or seed, that Eve was promised (Ge 3:15). As we saw when we discussed 1 Corinthians 11, that through childbearing woman counterbalances man. But here we see that the promised childbearing Woman produces the 'seed' of her redemption, who bruises the serpent's head. This promised seed and child is, of course, Jesus Christ.
There is, however, an important proviso. Woman will be restored, provided that individual women continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety/modesty (note literal text shifts to the plural "they" in verse 15). In other words, womanhood is saved, restored, redeemed through Christ's coming into the world. But this only entitles the Ephesian women to be leaders when individually they faithfully demonstrate the maturity of faith demanded of any Christian leader!
It is very reasonable, then, to conclude that 1 Timothy 2 is actually a case for the redemption of woman/womanhood and the restoration of women as teachers, provided that the women in question are properly taught and are examples of sound Christian character.
In view of these considerations, we might better communicate Paul's intent in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 by paraphrasing it like this:
I want all men everywhere (even literalists) to pray in every place lifting up holy hands, without anger or arguing. In the same way, I want women to pray, wearing modest clothing, with decency and propriety, not acting like pagan priestesses who braid their hair with gold and pearls, and who wear expensive, seductive clothes. Instead, they should dress themselves in good deeds, appropriate for women who desire to be godly worshipers.*Note: This paraphrase is adapted from one by my friend, Dr. Hal Miller of Boston. I am also indebted to him for other elements and ideas in the preceding discussion.
Let a woman be discipled, learning in quietness with all cooperation (without loud disputes as some Ephesians are known to do, cf 2:8). I am not permitting a woman to teach or to have the kind of disruptive sexual religious authority over a man that the Ephesian priestesses have.
For Adam was made first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a sinner. Yet Woman will be restored, i.e., saved from that which demands her silence, and will be able to teach, because of the childbearing she was promised after she sinned. Woman not only counterbalances the created priority of Man in nature (cf 1Co 11:11-12), but she produces the promised "seed," which bruised the serpent's head, namely Jesus Christ. Therefore, Woman will be restored when individual women genuinely embrace faith and love in holiness, with modesty, thereby demonstrating the maturity of faith demanded of any Christian teacher, regardless of gender.*
Coming Up: WOMEN ELDERS AND OUR MALE-BIASED TRANSLATIONS