In this 10 minute audio post, I summarize our discussion of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. This often-contentious passage details some of Paul's instructions about both worship and teaching leadership and authority in the church.
We're studying 1 Timothy in our Sunday morning bible study. This is a great study, and we've come to a difficult passage--1 Tim. 2:8-15. This passage raises a number of questions:
1. Are we to take it literally (as we typically do for 2:9-15 about women)? If so, why do we not hold it as a requirement for men to pray and lift up their hands?
2. What are we to make of Paul inserting himself into this passage through first-person language? Are these instructions merely his opinion?
3. What does Paul mean by "assuming authority" (2:12)? How far should this extend?
4. Why does Paul talk about Adam and Eve?
For the purpose of this note, I'm going to completely bracket out a discussion of verse 15, as well as any argument about Paul's restrictions on women.
To answer the first question: If we take one set of instructions literally (either to the men or to the women), we must also take the second set of instructions literally. It is not enough to say the instructions for men to pray with hands lifted is cultural but the instructions about how women are to dress or the restrictions on women are timeless (the apparent theological reference to Adam and Eve notwithstanding).
Secondly, we sometimes overlook how often Paul refers to himself in the Pastoral Letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). Because this can be an emotionally charged passage, we look for ways to "soften the blow." Some even look for ways to evade these instructions, either by throwing out an uncritical "cultural" argument or by pointing to Paul's first-person language as though these instructions are merely Paul's opinion that can be taken or left as one desires.
Paul uses personal language often in these letters. For example, Paul refers to the way God used him to demonstrate God's great mercy (1:12-17). Are we to infer that this is just a good idea or one way of looking at things merely because Paul uses himself as an example to make a larger point about Christ Jesus' patience towards those who would believe in him (1:16)? On the contrary, Paul's theological argument is valid; his experience extends his argument and is secondary to it.
Further, Paul considers himself an apostle (1:1). In earlier New Testament letters Paul has shown no fear in arguing from his apostleship. He derives authority from his apostleship and uses it from time to time (for example, 2 Corinthians 10-12). It is fair to say that when Paul uses first-person language in this passage, he is not passing on his opinion, but his apostolic teaching about the issue at hand.
Thirdly, Paul deals with Adam and Eve (2:13-14). For what purpose? Are they offered merely as an illustrative example, or as the theological basis for Paul's argument? In my view, Paul uses them merely as an example to illustrate his point. This is in part because of verse 15, which Paul includes as a way of indicating that his example in verses 13-14 breaks down.
Finally, what does Paul mean when he says "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man"? The italicized phrase is difficult to interpret. It is a verb that is relatively rare in Greek and, in fact, only appears in the New Testament in this one place. That makes it even more difficult to interpret because there are no other uses in the NT to compare it to.
The rest of the sentence, as well as verse 11, is pretty clear. Taken simply and literally, Paul teaches that women are to be learners, not teachers, in the church. Grammatically, the verb for "to assume authority" is an infinitive used in a complementary way. Daniel Wallace says, "The infinitive is very frequently used with "helper" verbs to complete their thought" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Zondervan, 1996], p. 599).
As an example, Wallace cites Matthew 6:4--"You cannot serve God and mammon." Notice how the verb, "serve," is complemented by "God" and "mammon."
Thus, in 1 Tim. 2:12, "to teach" and "to assume authority" complement the (negative) verb, "I do not permit." They both relate what Paul doesn't permit, and because they are complementary, they relate to the same thing. Specifically, in this passage, according to Paul, a woman teaching a man is the same as a woman assuming authority over a man, that is, to set herself above him.
However, if we understand that the phrase "to assume authority" refers to taking, seizing, or usurping authority from men, what if the authority to teach is granted to a woman from the leading men? Does that alleviate her from "assuming authority"? Which is the real issue in this passage--promoting male leadership in teaching, or teaching proper roles that respect cultural distinctions in society? [Consider that Paul is also concerned that the church not run afoul of the authorities (2:1-7) and the latter takes on more relevance.]
If, grammatically and contextually, "assuming authority" is limited to the teaching act (and even more specifically, to the act of women teaching men the bible in the church), then we must recognize its limitations. How do we extend this to cover the whole of the worship service? How do we apply this over other passages that clearly demonstrate the communal nature of worship, and the involvement of women in such (1 Cor. 11:2-16)?
Obviously, there is a lot more that could be fleshed out here. In this note I wanted to detail what Paul was actually saying in this passage as opposed to what we often think he was saying. Did I succeed? What do you think?
Studying 1 Timothy in our adult bible study on Sunday mornings will bring out many points for discussion, among them church leadership and women's role. I've been reading a commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus by N.T. Wright (NTW) as I've been studying 1 Timothy.
This morning, I anxiously read NTW's commentary on 1 Timothy 2:8-15. I really struggle with this passage because of how limiting it seems towards women.
NTW, however, pitches it in the context of the removal of gender stereotypes. He points to the existence of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (which is also where Timothy ministered). Artemis was a female deity, and she was ministered to in her temple by an all-women ensemble. Every priest of Artemis was female; all leadership in this religion was female.
This is the context NTW speculates is behind Paul's instructions to Timothy in this passage (1 Tim. 2:8-15). He says 2:8-10 is about the removal of gender stereotypes--men are to become men of prayer instead of the typical angry, argumentative husband. Women are not to adorn themselves like the flashy priestesses of Artemis, calling attention to themselves for how they look, but are to focus on good deeds, the building up of the community.
Then we come to 2:11-15, the passage used by many insincerely to hold women down, but also used sincerely as good Christians struggle with its interpretation.
NTW points out, correctly, that the bible typically holds women up in good ways: they were the first witnesses to Jesus' resurrection (therefore the first apostles?); women are possibly (likely?) mentioned in Romans 16 as apostles and deacons; women are expected to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly (1 Cor. 11).
Therefore, according to NTW, this passage should be seen as a corrective to the perspective that many women in Ephesus would have had--women were not to muscle their way into leadership and teaching roles in the church, but neither were they to be held down, separated from the men, and unable to learn.
Rather, women "must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God" (2:11; NTW's translation). He points out, correctly, I think, that even though the direct object of "full submission" is not mentioned in the text, it should be understood as God. That is, women need to be in full submission to God as they learn.
We've typically understood that, at least in the Church of Christ, to refer to women's submission to men. NTW's perspective makes more sense to me. Part of the submitting to God is to "learn" in "quietness," without assuming leadership and teaching roles.
Where I'm not so sure about NTW's perspective is in where he goes next. As he continues to translate this passage, he writes, "I'm not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed" (2:12). His argument for this translation is that Paul did not intend to be understood the way we have understood him, but that Paul means women shouldn't be rushed into teaching and leadership roles; they should be allowed to learn at their own pace and in their own way.
Now, I completely agree with this last idea. Too often, men, especially those in "leadership," think they know best and can dictate to women how they are to learn. This is seen most often when men in leadership try to dictate or control how and when a women's class can meet, what the topic of the class can be, or who may teach such a class. The worst of this is seen when men expect a women's class to be taught by another man!
However, I really struggle with the first part of his argument. As much as I'd like to follow this interpretation, I just don't see it. I looked at several translations, even going back and doing a rough translation from Greek of my own. And I don't see it. At best, I see Paul correcting the abuses of the Artemis-religion and saying, "The church isn't to be like that."
Leaving aside the questions of 2:13-15, and whether this is Paul's opinion only (since he says "I do not permit," not "God does not permit"), a straightforward reading implies that the public teaching role in the church is to be led by men. But women should not be prevented in any way from learning. If they are, we have a problem.
As much as I'd like to go along with NTW on this point, textually, I can't. Your thoughts?
This blog is for articles and book reviews. I post my sermons at my Sermons page, where you can listen to sermons online or download them in MP3 format.
Although I work for the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan, this blog represents my own thoughts and does not necessarily correspond to the views and workings of the Otisville Church of Christ.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.