Thursday, May 04, 2006

1 Tim 2:8-15 - Women & Teaching/Authority

I just finished a paper on 1 Tim 2:8-15 for my Ethics class this semester. Feel free to take a peek if you'd like to see what I think Paul means when he says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority." Feedback would be most welcome (especially from those of you who are pro-woman's ordination)...


At 6:10 AM, Blogger Danny Zacharias said...

Hey man, thanks for sharing this. This is a funny subject for me- on the one hand I am terribly interested in it because my former church background is plymouth Brethren which are the gatekeepers for suppressing women in ministry - and on the other hand I really get sick of talking about sometimes (with some people more than others)!
I've never had the opportunity to really dig into this passage, so I'm glad someone has done it for me. You give some excellent overviews of the various readings by scholars, thanks.
I have just 1 critique. 1) On p.6 you say, "Creative attempts to make it read otherwise (thereby rendering it less troublesome to apply) are just that: creative attempts to soften the force of something which is unpalatable to our modern sensibilities." I certainly think that modern sensibilities does play a role, but to boil it down to that being the main feature is I think unfair to those scholars who are truly wrestling with this text. Myself, as one of those wrestlers, are trying to make sense of this suppression of women with clear examples of women leaders elsewhere in the NT. I am attempting to read it canonically- understanding that while there may be tensions God's will is not ultimately in conflict in these passages. Precisely because of the pecularity of this passage, creative attempts are needed. It is not as easy to creatively explain away plain-jane statements which name women as leaders, Phoebe, Junia, etc. It is more the "gravitational pull" as you call it, that causes this creative exegesis I think

You may be interested in reading John Stackhouse's book, "Finally Feminist". Unless you have read it, you have come to a very similar ethical conclusion as he has. He believes the eschatological and Kingdom reality is Gal 3:28, yet at the same time, the going forth of the gospel is what counts, not our own rights and privileges. In the 1st century context, to give full equality in all things to women would have hampered the message of the gospel, and so Paul's pragmatically chose to curb women's roles, it was something they should give up for the sake of the gospel. In our culture, to not hold women down is what will now hurt the gospel. This pragmattic ethic works itself out in missions right now- trained women often go to the mission field and only stick to women and children because that is what works in that culture. This does not limit us from pushing the boundaries, spreading rumors of another world, but we submit ourselves to the gospel. This pragmatic ethic would hold true if my wife and I went to a matriarchal culture- my role would be relegated for the advance of the gospel. I think (following Stackhouse) the pragmatic ethic was taking place in the 1st century as well. As you said, it is the freedom to submit.

Good stuff, thanks for sharing it. Danny

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Danny - thanks for your comments. I appreciate your critique here: listening to just that sentence, and it does indeed sound like I'm being a little harsh. Not sure exactly how I'd re-word it (because I still feel like many explanations ARE just creative attempts), but I in no way want to castigate everyone who holds a different position. So my apologies for coming across that way, and thank you for pointing it out.

I haven't read Stackhouse's book, but I'll have to see if I can find a copy. As you might be able to tell from the paper, I'm actually very sympathetic with other conclusions - not that I necessarily agree, but I really AM interested in seeing how other people approach the text.

Ultimately, I think we might learn more about the heremeneutical commitments of all the interpreters than we do about the actual meaning/application of the text (and I include myself in this). So I think its really a good exercise to dialogue w/ others here.

And at the end of the day, I do embrace a certain gospel pragmatism (that probably sounds like a dirty word to some people). An interesting question is trying to figure out how people can hold very different conclusions and still find enough unity to work together.

Thanks for reading and responding...

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Danny Zacharias said...

"Ultimately, I think we might learn more about the heremeneutical commitments of all the interpreters than we do about the actual meaning/application of the text"

I take from this that you are attempting to get your wife to listen to you in silence and modesty ; )

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Christoph said...

"if God has relatively little to say about something,
and then speaks in a way that is obtuse and difficult to understand (or misinterpret), perhaps the
matter is not as important as we might sometimes make it"

That's not a good argument. How much of Scripture is about not beating your wife or raping women or molesting children, etc. Scripture gives us a mindset and worldview to see other things, which it does not deal with explicitly or at length, more clearly.
I would argue then that even if the text could POSSIBLY go both ways (although aner and gune are just employed to distinguish between male and female---they don't lexically mean "husband" and "wife"---that's a referential meaning that has to be imported from the context), for those of us who see the Holy Spirit's guidance of His Church in interpretating issues, and see Scripture with the larger view of giving a mindset about something, I would say it would be a safer bet that the traditional view is correct.
The consensus of the Church has concluded this.
And the mindset of the male/female relationship/roles in creation and marriage gives us a Scriptural frame to import that into the larger contexts.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Christoph said...

Of course, also if it's just husbands and wives, then Paul is just telling the husbands to lift up their hands in prayer in every place.

Suffice to say, possibility is what often leads to error. Probability is a better guide.

Finally, Mickelson's comment is absurd, since the arguments Paul gives are the reasons for why he does not allow a women to teach or exercise authority over a man. They are not universal, creation arguments to support what he said about adornment and praying. The text itself makes that clear. That's kind of a weak argument to me.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Christoph said...

Finally, even if the instructions were specifically to a husband and wife, they would simply be the models of the entire community. In other words, husbands should lift up their hands in prayer, doesn't mean that it's OK for unmarried men not to pray. Wives being commanded to dress modestly doesn't mean it's OK for unmarried women to dress immodestly. Why would we then conclude that commands concerning the wife in the area of her not teaching and exercising authority, then would make it OK for unmarried women to teach and exercise authority? That would seem to fly away from what is intended.
So, once again, it seems that the traditional exegesis should really lead to the traditional conclusions.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Christoph,

First of all, thanks for taking the time to read and respond. Its always a little surprising when people not only take the time to read something I've written, but actually say what they think about it. That's humbling, so thanks.

1. In response to your first comment - "if God has relatively little to say about something..." - I actually footnoted this sentence w/ something that sounds very similar to what you yourself said:

"Of course, we need to be cautious about drawing such a conclusion: Scripture also says relatively little about homosexuality and abortion – is this because it is unimportant, or simply a “given” within the ancient culture?"

So hopefully it was clear that I'm not adopting this as a blanket principle - it does carry weight, but it needs to be wisely applied.

2. In regards to your second comment: "Of course, also if it's just husbands and wives, then Paul is just telling the husbands to lift up their hands in prayer in every place."

Using your own logic here, are you suggesting that Paul is telling _males_ to lift up their hands in prayer every place? I doubt it. Most churches don't bar women from praying. And they don't require men to pray with lifted hands.

I would suggest that it's at least _possible_ that what Paul is saying here is more like this: "As for you men, when you lift your hands in prayer, do so w/out anger or quarreling..." In other words, the corrective being focused on the anger/quarreling, not on the lifting of hands are maleness. Now can I _prove_ that from the text? Nope. But that's the whole point of this paper, really - I think there's lots of possibile interpretations which can't be proven definitively, and hence the need for faith in Christ, rather than faith in our interpretation being right.

We should certainly favor probablility over improbability, but we must not forget that both fall short of certainty. At the end of the day, where am I putting my confidence?

3. Regarding your third comment, "In other words, husbands should lift up their hands in prayer, doesn't mean that it's OK for unmarried men not to pray."

Of course the text isn't saying that. It's just (possibly) speaking to husbands/wives, in which case we'd have to decide whether/how it applies to unmarrieds, to males/females in general.

I'm not trying to come across as particularly dogmatic here - I'm mostly trying to build a case that its not as cut and dried as we'd like to think. And that tension is what's really interesting in all this...

That's why we all need to keep wrestling with the text!

Thanks again for your comments!

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

I liked it, Christian, especially your exhortation near the end of how we live with unclear tensions that good Christians disagree on.

I was wondering if you had seen Ben Witherington's treatment of 1 Tim 2:8-15? You can also read my summary of it on my blog.

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Mark! Nope, I haven't seen it, but I'll have to check it out (after finals). Thanks for the pointer...

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my approach on vs. 11-15 (all I have time for and I'm borrowing this). The historical situation in the Ephesian church that evoked Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not entirely clear. Historical reconstructions generally fall into three categories. Some commentators suggest that the basic problem was one of women seeking improperly to assert authority over men in the worship assembly [2]. Other commentators suggest that some women in the church were teaching heresy and that Paul sought to prevent them from using the worship assembly for that purpose [3]. Still other interpreters suggest that Paul's prohibitions were given because women were doctrinally untaught and were thus more susceptible to false teaching [4].

I like the fact that you relate the verses to the relationship between husbands and wives. I have to admit it surprised me because (correct me if I'm wrong) you are a member of a church that doesn't allow women at the pulpit. Before I even read your paper I was apprehensive. I have to admit I just don't understand keeping women out of the pulpit! I am with Danny - I get sick of talking about it. The fact that it's a topic of debate is crazy! I believe that keeping women out of the ministry is exactly what the devil wants us to do. Woman bore the son of God who bruised the Devil with His own heal.

God created womam out of man's side to walk with him. He didn't create woman out of man's rear - to walk behind him!

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for taking the time to comment - I really do appreciate it. Yes, I belong to a denomination that doesn't allow women to be pastors. Of course, the real question is "why" we hold to that.

There certainly have been (and still are) cases where woman are denigrated in church simply on the basis of chauvinism. At the same time, I'd suggest that this is the exception rather than the rule. A good number of people who hold to the "historic" position are genuinely trying to take Scripture seriously and obey Jesus.

Your comment towards the end is interesting in this regard - "I have to admit I just don't understand keeping women out of the pulpit! I am with Danny - I get sick of talking about it. The fact that it's a topic of debate is crazy!"

Now what this tends to sound like (and I'm not saying you are suggesting this - I'm just pointing out how easily it could be construed this way), is something like this: "Look, I don't really care what that text says (or means) - we all know what needs to be done, so let's just get on with it."

And that's not something I want to say.

I really do believe the Bible is God's word to us. As such, I need to be conformed to it, rather than seeking to conform it to me.

Rich Mullins has a great line in a song called Creed:
"I believe what I believe is what makes me who I am - I did not make it, no it is making me, it is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man"

That's been the confession of the true church throughout the ages - that the Bible is God's word, and it needs to shape us. There's certainly a lot of room for discussion on what it means and how we should apply it (that's what this paper is wrestling with), but we should be very wary about jettisoning what scripture says in favor of what we ourselves "already know to be true."

The fundamental problem today with this whole "women in ministry" issue is NOT that we have taken the Bible too seriously - it's that we have failed to take it seriously enough. I believe we have placed to much weight in our traditions and our own desires (and I am applying this critique to both conservatives and liberals here, as well as to myself).

We don't need to wrestle _less_ with the text. We need to wrestle _more_. It needs to shape us, rather than affirm us. And we need to create an environment in the church where its ok to wrestle with the text again, to hear freshly where it challenges us. That's really what I'm interested in - being challenged by the text, by Christ. And I earnestly hope I never get tired of that.

Good comment - very thought provoking! Thanks! :-)

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Mike Field said...

I favor a slightly different interpretation. 1 Tim 2:8-10 is directed at men & women in general. Verse 11 is a transition in which the grammar & subject change (women to woman; prayer to instruction). Also, because of the mention of children in v. 15, we can conclude that 1 Tim 2:11-15 is like Col 3:18-20. It addresses "a wife". Notice in v.15 the grammar: "she shall ... if they." They refers to her children, and 'sosthenai' carries the connotation of "thrive" or "prosper" in the passive voice. Hence, v.15, "She shall be fulfilled by childbearing if they [her children] continue in ..."

For more on women in ministry, see my article at

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks Mike, I will check out your article. It sounds like even if we differ on some things, substantively we're saying similar things - that you can make a strong contextual and grammatical case that 'woman' in vs. 11 could well be 'wife'. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Any thoughts on the conclusions that I reach at the end? The real thrust of this paper is not which interpretation is most plausible, but rather that even conservative understandings of the text still are forced to go beyond what is explicit in the text - in other words, that the reality of praxis (deciding how to apply the text) necessarily forces us to make concrete decisions where the text itself is not that explicit.

That tension creates some interesting heremeneutical (and ethical) implications - and I draw 3 conclusions at the end in this regard (liberty to wrong, charity towards other interpretations, and the right to submit to an interp with which I might actually disagree, for the sake of preserving unity).

At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Mike Field said...

Hi Christian,

I generally agree with your conclusions. Re: 1 Cor 14:33-35, one should consider "silent" there is the same as "silent" in v. 29 directed at prophets. The injunction is a temporary one; and I interpret 1 Cor 14:33-35 like 1 Tim 2:11-15 to be directed at wives, who are to be silent when their husbands are speaking in the assembly.

When I look at Gen 1 and the implications of male & female being made in the image of God, I'm struck by the prominence of "And God said..." Speaking is an important attribute of being made in God's image, so restricting this for either men or women seems to be contrary to God's design.



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