Posted by: watchman | July 10, 2009

First Timothy 2: Women of Obedience

Well, I have been putting this one off for a while, becasue I am fairly certain it will get me in trouble, but here we go.

Here is the passage (I Tom. 2:9-15) as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in the Message:

And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it.

I don’t let women take over and tell the men what to do. They should study to be quiet and obedient along with everyone else. Adam was made first, then Eve; woman was deceived first—our pioneer in sin!—with Adam right on her heels. On the other hand, her childbearing brought about salvation, reversing Eve. But this salvation only comes to those who continue in faith, love, and holiness, gathering it all into maturity. You can depend on this.

This passage has been used for centuries to argue against women taking leadership roles in the church. In fact, outright subjugation has been justified by this passage. Let’s take a look at it.

First of all, we need to remember the context. Verses 8 and 9 are following the same train of thought, and many translations place them in the same paragraph. So, when Paul says “also” in verse 9, he is linking the previous admonition to the men of Ephesus in with the instructions to women. The Greek word ὡσαύτως rendered “also” in the NIV  literally means “likewise” or “in the same way.” So, Paul is still talking about being people dedicated to God and not to carnal competitiveness. So, what Paul says to the men applies to the women and vice versa here. NT Wright in commenting on this particular portion of scripture says that women “must be set free from their stereotype.”

Paul essentially tells the women to focus on quiet study of the scripture, and forbids them from the stereotypical competitiveness that plagues their gender – appearances. In the same way that men compete with each other using anger and silly disputations, women compete using their appearances. Paul says knock it off.

Some have used this passage to forbid women from teaching. I would think that they would have a difficult time understanding 1 Corinthians 11, in which the same apostle gives instructions on how women should behave while prophesying during corporate worship. So, do they only prophesy silently? Using sign language, perhaps?

Instead, I think that Paul is trying to tell Timothy to teach the women not to act like domineers over the men. There was a significant reason for this. I’ll let Bishop Wright explain:

Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.

Lady of Ephesus, the goddess Artemis

Lady of Ephesus, the goddess Artemis

You can read NT Wright’s entire treatise “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis” here.

Certainly, there are some of you reading that will object to my interpretation of this passage. You are sure to say something along the lines of “literal meaning” or “take the Bible at face value” or “go with the simplest explanation.” I believe I am doing the first two. However, it seems like a strange thing to argue given the next thing that Paul writes:

women  will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.


At the very least, you will have to agree that this passage certainly has to be approached with nuance, and a keen eye for context. If not, then throw away the birth control, ladies!

Though it has little to do with leadership, I’ll take a crack at this one also.

According to Ray Vanderlaan (cited here), a quarter million women flocked to Ephesus every year to seek protection from the goddess Artemis (Diana to the Romans) in childbirth. Sandra Gahn points out in this post that women would pray to Artemis for deliverance or salvation in the childbearing process. Artemis was also served entirely by virgin priestesses.  Could it be, then, that Paul is teaching Timothy to be more stringent about dilineating the Ephesian church from the practices of the Artemis temple (matriarchial leadership)? Is he saying that to be saved from the spectre of death in childbearing, women should look to God and not Diana?

In my opinion, women have been ignored and relegated for too long. I think many talents have been overlooked because of their gender. I would encourage leaders to look at the Biblical basis for such policies.

If the position I have purported above is valid, what does that say about women in leadership roles at the church?


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