Biblical Egalitarianism (Part 09) - First Timothy 2

08/05/2009 16:29

We will start our discussion of 1 Timothy 2 by reading the specific verses in question—verses 8 through 15 (Paul is speaking): “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

I don’t think any honest person, reading through this passage for the first time, could possibly say that he or she understood it perfectly. There are just too many dips and turns. Why does Paul tell the men to act one way and for the women to “likewise” adorn themselves? Why is a woman not allowed to teach because Eve was deceived? Have no men been deceived since then? If Adam was not deceived but intentionally broke God’s command, why does that qualify him (and subsequently all men) to teach? What does Paul mean that “she will be saved through childbearing”? Saved from Eve’s transgression? Is the woman not guilty because of Adam’s sin, as Romans seems to say? And why does Paul say “she will be saved…if they continue….” Does singular “she” depend on a group “they” to be saved?  And why does Paul allow women to speak in worship, praying and prophesying, in 1 Corinthians 11, but here seems to say women cannot pray or prophesy but must be silent? Clearly, a plain, simple, surface-level read—the kind the PC advocates—is not going to do for understanding this passage as Paul and God intend.

We must begin by becoming somewhat acquainted with the setting. Paul is writing to Timothy who is an elder in Ephesus. Paul’s specific purpose in writing is revealed in chapter 1, verses 3 and 4. He says, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Paul’s purpose is clear. Timothy is to watch out for false doctrine mixing in with the pure gospel of God delivered by Paul.

It should be obvious to us in 21st century America that philosophical driftings in the popular culture usually infiltrate the church to some extent. The most recent blatant example is the mixing of postmodernism with Christianity in the emergent church movement. But we have had the same struggles with existentialism, humanism, and modernism over the past century or so. Paul’s charge to Timothy focused on that day’s errant philosophies and the religious myths so entrenched in the Asia Minor society. The religion of Ephesus focused on the Greek goddess Artemis. So, a little history is in order.

In Greek mythology, Gaia was the earth goddess that began everything. She created and married the god Uranus. Their offspring were the Titans. Uranus began delighting in doing evil things to his children, which pained their mother, Gaia. With the help of one of her sons, Cronus, Uranus was overthrown. Cronus and his wife/sister, Cybele (Greek – Rhea), ascended to supreme rule. But then Cronus then began to worry that his own children might try to usurp his throne just as he did to his father, Uranus. So Cronus began to do away with his own children. Again, Gaia acted with the help of Cybele in protecting one of Cronus’s offspring—Zeus, who eventually did overthrow Cronus and become the supreme god. Zeus was married to Hera; however, his relationship with Leto (a titan descendant) produced twins. The first born was Artemis followed a few days later by Apollo. According to the legend, Artemis (only days old but full grown) assisted in delivering Apollo. Legends about Artemis differed depending on locale. In Greece she was of minor import, known as huntress and virgin goddess. In Asia Minor, however, she occupied a high position and was known as a protector of wild animals and goddess of fertility. Ephesus, located in Asia Minor, boasted a magnificent temple (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world) dedicated to Artemis.

That was the religion of the day. The philosophies of the day included, among others, Stoicism (already a few hundred years old by the time of the first century church, but still developing), Epicureanism, and an emerging/growing Gnosticism. These philosophies and religion were the infiltrators to the Christian church. We must remember that the new church did not have the New Testament to keep them in line as to authority of faith and practice. Thus, the gospel, first preached by Paul and others, could be easily distorted by those who themselves were saturated with the false secular religion of the day. Paul warns Timothy of this—especially in Ephesus, home of the worshippers of Artemis. Not only does Paul speak against errant philosophies, but in verses 8 through 11 of chapter 1, he also points out the ritualistic practices/sins of the false religions.

With this backdrop of emphasis, we now approach chapter 2. Paul begins in verse 8 saying, “I desire then…,” now speaking specifically to church action that should be taken in light of these threats of false teaching to pure gospel understanding. Men, Paul says, should pray reaching to (focusing on) heaven and the pure message of God without anger (Greek orge – agitation of the soul) and without quarreling (Greek dialogismos – which actually means questioning what is true). Therefore, Paul is calling for them to stop the attempts at coalescing that which is false with the true. Paul’s call is submission to the gospel.

In verse 9 and on he instructs the women to likewise submit—to change their demeanor from officious meddlesomeness (which is the meaning of the Greek hesychia, translated as quietness in the ESV and silence in the KJV). Paul goes further to say that women should not be in authority. Why? Should they leave that to the men? That is not Paul’s point. His point is that the women of the church in Ephesus were mixing the religion and false teaching of the day in with their practice of church life.

Let’s look closely at verses 12 through 15. They read: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, rather she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

If Paul were arguing in favor of men as spiritual authorities and the women as spiritual subordinates, his reasoning that follows the verse 12 command would not make sense. The following verses tell us that his command—that women not teach and not be in authority—is based on two things: (1) the order of creation and (2) the fact that Eve was deceived. But in our discussion of creation we could find no evidence that an authority structure was intended for the man and woman. In addition, although Eve was deceived, men have certainly shown themselves capable of being deceived. And since Adam was not deceived, his sin in eating of the fruit showed even worse leadership tendencies than did Eve’s deception. He intentionally accepted the Serpent's false teaching. So how could these be reasons supporting an authority structure in favor of the man?  The next verse provides even more confusion for the PC as Paul argues that although women should not be in authority, they will be saved in childbirth. What?!

Patriarchal Complementarians (PCs) have strained to make this a command for giving men authority over women. But that is not Paul’s intent. Remember that his focus is on protecting the church from false religion/philosophy. We know that the false religion/philosophy of the day in Ephesus focused on the supposed spiritual superiority of women. Artemis was the female god they worshipped. The religious hierarchy was headed by the women priestesses. The mythology background began with a woman (Gaia) who was followed by the man (Uranus). The male gods (like Uranus and Cronus) failed miserably in their thoughts and decisions along the way, and their mistakes had to be rectified by the women (i.e., Gaia, Cybele, Artemis).

Paul’s argument is, indeed, that women should not be in authority. They were allowing the religious culture outside the church to influence the operation of the church. But notice that Paul never says that the men should be in authority instead of the women. In all Paul’s writings he never establishes an authority apart from God and the Bible. Paul had just said in verse 5 of this chapter that there is “one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The women were creating a hierarchy of authority based on the false notion (the notion of the religion of the day) that they were spiritually superior. Paul says No! And to prove his point, he refutes the religion of the day in verses 13-15. No, Paul says, Gaia was not first; the woman was not first. He says rather in verse 13, “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” And the men aren’t all failures while women are spiritually superior. He tells them in verse 14, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” So these verses that would seem strange to promote male authority are not so strange after all. They aren’t trying to promote male authority. Paul is using them to combat the false pagan teaching infiltrating the church.

Verse 15 is difficult. The first preposition “she” does not seem to fit with the last preposition “they.” And how is a person saved through childbearing? Although many believe that the “she” refers back to the faulty woman of verses 11 and 12, I think the immediate woman predecessor “Eve” is the referent. Eve here moves in Paul’s example of Adam’s sinning partner to metaphorical representative of all women (as Adam is used by Paul in Romans 5). Thus, the “she” change to “they” is explained. The sense of the verse becomes clearer if the Greek’s definite article is not omitted from the noun childbearing. We then understand the verse to say: “Yet she (Eve and, by representative extension, all women) will be saved through the childbearing (Christ’s entry into the world)—if they (all women) continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

Thus, the whole message of Paul is consistent with the overall thrust of these first two chapters in defending the church against the onslaughts of false religion and philosophy. This is also consistent with all Paul’s other writings. He is not creating a new doctrine here that men should be authorities in the church. He is disarming the emerging false doctrine that women should be the authorities.

One other point in I Timothy should be mentioned. Chapter 3 discusses qualifications for pastors and deacons. But we can’t ignore the context. In this entire letter, Paul is writing about combating the infiltration of false doctrine. And in that context he is giving these qualifiers. Many have pointed to the phrase “husband of one wife” as indicator that the pastor and/or deacon should be a male. The Greek word for husband is the same Greek word for man – aner. In Greek, the phrase is “one woman man.” In other words, if the pastor is married, the union should display the creation ideal of one man and one woman in oneness of spirit and not the cultural religious distortion of that day in either polygamous marriage or sexual immorality. That is the thrust. That is why Paul brings up the qualifier. He is not merely developing a list of pastoral requirements. He is telling Timothy what falseness to watch out for among elders and deacons. Therefore just because Paul uses the word “man” in this section, he is not specifying maleness as a qualification. He is using the word in the same way as he constructs Ephesians 4:13. In that verse Paul states that God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip the saints “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood….” Would we dare argue that Paul doesn’t want women to learn or develop in the body of Christ? Well, we would have to think so if we think Paul’s use of the word manhood is meant to regard males only. But in that passage we use a little more interpretive common sense. We understand the point, the thrust of the passage. And so too should we understand it in 1 Timothy.

Therefore, while 1 Timothy 2 does argue against women in authority, it does not argue that an authority hierarchy should exist either in the church or the home.